Residents leave homes over bonfire fears (UTV)

Residents living next to a Belfast bonfire site have moved out of their homes after being warned their lives and property could be at risk.

The bonfire sits on an old railway line just off the Newtownards Road, near the Holywood Arches, in east Belfast.

The land is owned by the Department of Regional Development.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said ‘five or six’ families have had to leave their homes because they fear the bonfire could do ‘massive’ damage to their homes.

“Some of them are staying with friends because they’re really worried as their properties are so close to the bonfire,” he said.

“It’s a heavily populated area. I grew up in it. We had our bonfire but it was nothing like the size of this one.”

Mr Rodgers said those building the bonfire have ‘categorically refused’ to move it as they want it to be the ‘tallest and widest ever’, as it will be the last year on the site on which a play park will be built in the future.

“Over the last number of weeks, myself and a number of colleagues have been in touch with the police, the Fire and Rescue Service, the Department of Regional Development and Belfast City Council to try and persuade the bonfire builders to reduce the size of this massive bonfire.

“We haven’t had any success up to now.

“As and from today, a number of properties – in the region of about 50 in Lena Street, Chobham Street, Beechwood Street and Finvoy Street, along with the Walkway Community Centre – will all be boarded up.

“It’s a most unfortunate state of affairs and I sincerely hope that no-one’s property, or no individual will suffer through a bonfire, which according to the fire and rescue service is far, far too big for the space that it’s being built on.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle has called on the Minister for Regional Development to take urgent action to make the bonfire safe.

He said: “The size and location of this particular bonfire now poses a serious risk to residents, a community centre and a dedicated cycle and walkway.

“It is unacceptable that a government department has allowed this bonfire to progress to the stage where residents are living in fear for the safety of their homes.

“The Minister for Regional Development must take action to make the area safe and show greater leadership on this issue.”

Sinn Féin east Belfast councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile has called on unionist politicians and statutory bodies to show leadership: “The fact that statutory authorities along with community leaders have ceded responsibility to a group of children building this bonfire is unfathomable.

“Beyond the local danger to people and property there is the huge question of the cost to this bonfire as public finances have to be spent on protecting up to 50 homes and having the Fire Service on standby.

“I understand that some within the unionist community may raise an eyebrow at a Sinn Féin representative saying this about an 11th night bonfire.

“However, in the absence of clear leadership from unionist politicians on the ground I am calling on all those with statutory responsibilities for health and safety to make this hazard safe.”

A Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “NIFRS provides advice on Bonfire safety using the Bonfire Code.

“We continue to work closely with local communities and with the other statutory agencies to ensure people stay safe when building and attending bonfires.”

A statement from TransportNI read: “The Department does not approve of or support the unauthorised use of its property and its land.

“Bonfire management is dealt with on an inter-agency basis.

“The Department remains actively engaged with partner stakeholders in efforts to achieve an amicable outcome.”


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