Bollards placed to 'deter trespass' at Belfast bonfire site
BOLLARDS and perimeter fencing to "deter trespass" have been placed by the Housing Executive at the site of a loyalist bonfire that last year damaged a Belfast apartment block.
It comes amid police and council enquiries after the site was recently used for an unauthorised car boot sale.
A contractor is also currently operating on the disused land as part of water mains upgrade works being carried out by NI Water.
The site – near Sandy Row and beside a city centre hotel – is owned by the Housing Executive (NIHE) and has annually been used without its permission for an Eleventh Night bonfire.
Last year windows were cracked and damaged at the nearby Victoria Place flats on Wellwood Street due to heat from the pyre.
It also faced controversy last year after The Irish News revealed Belfast City Council (BCC) had agreed to move and store around 300 pallets for the bonfire.
An investigation into the decision showed how council staff gave a "written assurance" to bonfire builders that the pallets would be returned before the Eleventh Night.
But councillors voted against returning pallets to the site after they learned of the arrangement.
In recent weeks a car boot sale has been spotted operating on the site. A flyer posted online says the car boot sale takes place on Sundays and costs £5 per car space.
Car boot sales fall under the definition of a market and so would require a licence from the council.
A BCC spokeswoman said: "This matter has just been brought to our attention and we are currently investigating."
An NIHE spokesman said: "We are aware of attempts to hold an unauthorised car boot sale at Wellwood Street in recent weeks, where a small number of cars have attempted to access the site for a time at the weekend.
"We have given no permission for any such use at this location.
"Part of the site is currently in active use by a contractor.
"We have continued to secure the site by repairing and re-securing perimeter fencing and we have put bollards in place to deter trespass."
The spokesman said the works have cost £272 so far, and NIHE will "continue to secure the site as necessary".
Trevor Greer of Belfast South Community Resources (BSCR) said he understood "a couple of local guys" were behind the car boot sale and are "in the middle of going for licensing".
The community worker said police had also contacted him in recent weeks enquiring about the car boot sale.
Mr Greer said "without any doubt there will be a bonfire" built again on the site this year, but he said a car boot sale could help reduce possible anti-social behaviour by delaying bonfire materials being brought onto the land.
"In my opinion a car boot sale is a better option than 20 to 30 young people running about making a mess," he said.
In a statement a PSNI spokesman said: "Police have liaised with the owners of a site on Hope Street/Wellwood Street in Belfast about ongoing incidents of criminal damage to fencing and have provided crime prevention advice.
"Police on patrol on Sunday March 11 noted two vehicles and a small number people leaving the site just before noon."