Belfast apartment block still not repaired one month after bonfire damage

The Victoria Place flats off Sandy Row in Belfast. Picture by Declan Roughan
Brendan Hughes

AN apartment block in Belfast has still not been repaired a month after it was damaged by a loyalist bonfire.

Windows of the Victoria Place flats off Sandy Row were left shattered and cracked due to heat from an Eleventh Night pyre built nearby.

More than four weeks later, glass remains cracked and metal barriers still cordon off foyer windows damaged by the blaze.

Residents have been left asking questions over the repair bill, and have called for action to prevent bonfire problems in future years.

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said he "would have expected a satisfactory resolution to the damage by now".

"I convened statutory agencies to discuss ways forward at Victoria Place on behalf of residents so it is particularly disappointing there has been no progress," he said.

"Residents deserve better than to be left to manage the risk of contentious bonfires on their own. I would have expected a satisfactory resolution to the damage by now.

"It is incumbent on the agencies which bear primary responsibility - i.e. landowners - to act and help the people affected. I look forward to their renewed sense of urgency in the days and weeks ahead."

Sinn Féin councillor Deirdre Hargey said the delays are "unacceptable".

"The fact that residents in Victoria Place have been left in limbo is disgraceful," she said.

"They have been completely let down by statutory agencies and the failure of political unionism to provide leadership.

"It is unacceptable that property damaged as a result of the bonfire has still not been fixed.

"These residents could very well find themselves with increased insurance premiums through absolutely no fault of their own.

"It is Sinn Féin's view that there is clearly an onus on statutory agencies and landowners to tackle bonfire sites which present a threat to life, to property and to the environment and which facilitate hate crime."

Maintenance for the apartment block is handled by Belfast-based property management agency MB Wilson & Co.

It's understood residents of Victoria Place each pay several hundred pounds a year for the service.

In a statement, Michael Wilson from the firm said repairs will begin "at the earliest opportunity".

"The damage to Victoria Place caused by the bonfire on July 11 is being repaired by the building insurers and loss adjusters have been appointed to handle the claim," he said.

"The owners of damaged apartments were informed of this in the days immediately following the incident. Since then we have been in contact concerning temporary repairs as well as co-ordinating inspections to establish the full extent of the damage to the windows.

"Local glazing contractors have been endeavouring to draw up a full specification of the necessary repairs. This is now complete and final repairs will start at the earliest opportunity."

The Housing Executive, which owns the land where the bonfire was built, said it has advised MB Wilson of its public liability claims process for seeking to recover costs.

"We were informed the insurance company may at some point seek to be recompensed for the costs incurred and we notified the management company of our public liability insurance claims process and furnished them with our contact details in respect of this," a spokesman said.

He added that the housing body will lead an inter-agency approach to manage the site and "mitigate against this issue occurring again".

The damage caused by the bonfire led to criticism of the DUP over how its representatives responded to concerns and were absent from meetings with residents.

The bonfire was also at the centre of controversy ahead of the Twelfth after The Irish News revealed that Belfast city Council had been storing pallets for the pyre at ratepayers' expense.

There have been weeks of controversy over bonfires in both nationalist and loyalist areas.

In July, homes beside some bonfires had to be boarded up and doused with water by firefighters amid safety fears.

And earlier this week, police in Belfast were attacked and cars torched by youths after council contractors removed bonfire materials in some nationalist areas.

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