Northern Ireland news

Walkway bonfire builders claim this is last year at controversial site

Bloomfield walkway bonfire which fire crews have said is too close to nearby homes

Loyalists involved in building a controversial bonfire at a walkway in east Belfast - less than 20 meters from local homes - have claimed this is the last year they will build the towering structure on the site.

The fire, which is currently 75 wooden pallets high, it is dangerously close to nearby trees and a soft play area. Fire safety officers measured the bonfire on Monday and deemed it an unsafe height for the plot.

There has been criticism of the Department for Infrastructure which owns the land the bonfire is built on and it is claimed reneged on a previous agreement to back a council plan to have contractors remove material from the site.

Contractors, who were hired from outside of Northern Ireland, had been on standby to lift material from the site last weekend.

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However, at a special council meeting held on Saturday unionists rolled back from their previous position and said mediators should be given more time.

Mediation has so far failed to convince bonfire builders to reduce the size of the fire, which was criticised yesterday by Progressive Unionist Party councillor John Kyle who said the pyre was "completely inappropriate for the location".

"It presents a real risk to life and property, breaches Fire Service guidelines, is strongly opposed by the local community and undermines the excellent work being done by other bonfire groups," the former PUP leader said.

However, a posting on a Facebook page a group representing 'Walkway Bonfire Bloomfield' last night said: "this will be the last bonfire on the walkway as the older lads are hanging up their gloves".

"We have been betrayed time and time again and let down by statutory agencies.

"We listened to fire service about safest available space and moved our bonfire there. We keep asking council to board up playpark and asking how we could make it safe. They didn’t want to know.

"We fully understand our bonfire isn’t in an ideal place. But this is our culture and we have celebrated it for years. We are constantly being attacked by nationalists and even our so-called own".

While the most controversial of this year's loyalist pyres, the walkway site is not the only fire to have raised concerns.

At Cluan Place in east Belfast loyalists began constructing a fire in the centre of a road yesterday, dangerously close to nearby buildings. Last year fire crews spent the evening dampening down buildings close to the area to prevent damage.

Material for a bonfire at Circular Road in Newtownards, was removed back in May due to serious safety concerns because of its close proximity to an electricity substation. Despite this a group of men began rebuilding the bonfire earlier this week, with fears that homes could be left without power as a result.

However, there have also been improvements at some bonfire sites. The Sandy Row bonfire which last year caused damage to nearby apartments has been drastically reduced in size and moved to a safer location.

A bonfire in the Lower Shankill has also been moved away from property after houses at Hopewell Square caught fire in 2016, with a number of properties destroyed by the blaze. The fire is now in a different location and a more manageable size.

At Ballycraigy in Co Antrim hundreds of toxic tyres were stacked in preparation for the Eleventh night, a huge fire of wooden pallets had been built and was being filled with tyres by a crowd of loyalists last night.

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