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Loyalist bonfire site transformed into £285,000 allotment

The Rathfern Activity Area in Newtownabbey on a former loyalist bonfire site. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

A LOYALIST bonfire site in Co Antrim has been transformed into a £285,000 allotment and community garden space.

The Rathfern Activity Area at Knockenagh Avenue in Newtownabbey includes 28 allotments, car parking, an events space and a junior trim trail.

In previous years the site has been used for an annual Eleventh Night bonfire.

The pyre in July was moved onto land adjacent to the new activity site while work on the council-funded projected continued.

A sign on a newly landscaped area of the activity site encourages people to "keep the park clean and free from litter".

Antrim and Newtownabbey council, which was officially opened last month, said it hoped the new activity area would help encourage people to get "more active, more often".

DUP councillor Thomas Hogg welcomed the project, saying it followed discussions with the Housing Executive and Education Authority to make the land available for use.

"That area lay vacant and unkempt for many decades but it has been developed to enhance the local area," he said.

"The feedback has been great and it is a project that has enjoyed the unanimous support of all the parties on the council."

Formally opening the facility last month, council mayor Paul Hamill said he was "delighted to see this exciting project come to fruition".

"Facilities like these are the perfect way to provide the Rathfern community with opportunities to get outdoors and take part in physical activity whether that's on an allotment, trim trail or walking trail," the DUP councillor said.

"In addition, the space offers lots of possibilities as a community events space."

A spokeswoman for Antrim and Newtownabbey council said: "The total cost of the project was £285,000 which was met by the council, with the land provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Education Authority. This site was previously the location for an annual bonfire.

"The council is committed to the continued development of physical activity throughout the borough and this space is just one way of helping achieve the aim of 'making people more active, more often'."

Meanwhile, a court injunction against several loyalist bonfires earlier this year cost Belfast City Council almost £4,500.

The landmark legal action was secured in a bid to prevent further materials being added to four Eleventh Night bonfires in the east of the city.

Belfast City Council disclosed the cost in response to a freedom of information request from The Irish News.

However, the local authority refused to release minutes of the multi-agency meeting where the decision to pursue an injunction was agreed.

In July, unionist parties remained silent amid questions about the legal action, which Sinn Féin insisted was backed by all parties.

The injunction was placed on four bonfire sites – Ravenscroft Avenue car park/Bloomfield Walkway; Avoniel Leisure Centre car park; Inverary playing fields; and Cregagh Park East.

There had been early indications of efforts to adhere to the court order, such as a handwritten 'no more dumping' sign spotted at Bloomfield Walkway and people seen clearing up excess material.

But masked men were photographed using a cherry-picker to stack pallets on top of the Inverary bonfire.

And the council said a racist banner about Celtic footballer Scott Sinclair placed on the Avoniel pyre "could constitute a technical breach" of the injunction.

Three alleged breaches of the injunction were reported to the council.

Asked whether the council intends to take any action over the complaints, a Belfast City council spokesman said it "does not comment upon enforcement issues generally".

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