Northern Ireland news

Loyalist bonfire being moved to 'safe space' will still be close to homes

An Eleventh Night bonfire on Bloomfield Walkway beside Chobham Street in 2015
Brendan Hughes

A CONTENTIOUS bonfire that a UVF-linked group says is being moved to a "safe space" will still be built just yards from people's homes.

Loyalists announced earlier this week that agreement had been reached to relocate the annual Bloomfield Walkway pyre in east Belfast.

The notorious bonfire was among four included in a landmark court injunction secured by Belfast council last year following safety concerns over their size.

Properties were boarded up as the Eleventh Night pyre was built in a public car park off Ravenscroft Avenue.

There was also controversy after The Irish News revealed the council was storing 2,500 pallets for the bonfire at a separate site, costing ratepayers thousands of pounds. The pallets were later stolen, allegedly by the UDA.

In 2015 the bonfire forced 50 families to flee their homes when it was built further along Bloomfield Walkway next to Chobham Street.

The following year a newly-built play park was moved to facilitate the bonfire.

An agreement was announced on Thursday by the East Belfast Community Initiative (EBCI), which says it "mediates on behalf of ex-combatants linked to east Belfast UVF".

It said the bonfire will move "to a safe space and the height of the bonfire will be such that it will not endanger the homes of any members of our community".

However, it has emerged the proposed location is again on Bloomfield Walkway, just one street along from where it was positioned in 2015.

The distance between the centre of the green space and the nearest house on Beechwood Street is about 20m (65ft).

Safety advice from the Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) recommends the distance of a bonfire to the nearest property should be five times the pyre's height.

It means the bonfire at the new location should be under four metres tall (13ft).

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, who acts as a spokesman for EBCI, posted a video on Facebook describing the new location, saying NIFRS had identified the area as a "safe space".

Asked about the bonfire, Mr Bryson said: "While the EBCI welcome the ongoing, annual interest of The Irish News in loyalist cultural expression, this is a positive development and should be welcomed as such."

UUP councillor Jim Rodgers welcomed efforts to address concerns, but urged bonfire builders to consult with statutory agencies and ensure the pyre is "not anywhere near the size of last year".

"I don't want to see anyone having their Eleventh or Twelfth destroyed because of a bonfire that has got out of control," he said.

A NIFRS spokeswoman said it met with bonfire builders in 2017 and although identifying safe space is not within its remit, "advice was provided that the proposed relocation on the Bloomfield Walkway site may reduce the impact of radiant heat on nearby properties".

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