Leading article

Grim ordeal for Victoria Place residents

AFTER their disturbing experiences of the last few weeks, and in particular over recent days, there can only be enormous sympathy for the residents of the Victoria Place apartment block close to Belfast city centre.

Having moved into the privately-owned modern complex, built beside one of the city's main commercial streets, they had to watch helplessly as preparations began for an enormous and entirely unauthorised loyalist bonfire on adjoining vacant ground.

They must have been hugely relieved when city council workers arrived at the site, which borders the Sandy Row district, and removed large quantities of wooden pallets, many of which turned out to have been stolen in the first place.

Open bemusement followed when this newspaper revealed that the material was actually being held in safe keeping, and was due to be returned for the Eleventh Night celebrations, before it subsequently went missing from a supposedly secure location in another part of Belfast.

A civic investigation into the whole affair was then established, but it was unable to prevent an even larger illegal construction appearing in the same spot off Wellwood Street.

While the city council then managed to obtain an injunction restricting the size of other pyres in the east of the city, it apparently could not intervene beside Victoria Place because the land was owned by the Housing Executive.

Tenants looked on with despair as the towering bonfire expanded in a way which plainly threatened not only their homes but their lives, prompting comparisons with the Grenfell catastrophe in London.

When it was eventually set ablaze, the intense heat inevitably caused extensive damage to the windows, fittings and overall exterior of the block.

Indeed, it was clear that even more serious consequences would have ensued if the fire brigade had not comprehensively doused the building in water throughout the night.

As a final shocking twist, it has emerged that there is uncertainty over who will pay for the repair operation after the Northern Ireland Office insisted it was not responsible.

Comments about insurance policies are hardly helpful, as the prospect of greatly increased premiums will immediately loom after any claims.

The NIO should be prepared to sit down as soon as possible with the city council and the Housing Executive to work out a solution which does not in any way penalise the long-suffering residents.

Together with the police, the officials must also provide assurances that the Victoria Place bonfire debacle will not be allowed to happen again next year.

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