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Housing Executive 'content' to allow disastrous Eleventh Night bonfire that damaged flats to return

Windows were damaged at Victoria Place flats nearby. Picture by Declan Roughan
Brendan Hughes

THE Housing Executive is "content" for its land to be used again for a loyalist bonfire that damaged a Belfast apartment block, a senior community worker has claimed.

Windows at the Victoria Place flats off Sandy Row were cracked and shattered as a result of heat from the July pyre.

Repairs arranged by the building's insurers have begun and are expected to be completed within a fortnight.

The bonfire was built on disused land owned by the Housing Executive (NIHE). The housing body has previously insisted it does not give permission for any bonfires on its property.

However, Sandy Row Community Forum's Glenda Davies said NIHE "just want it managed" rather than removed from the Hope Street site.

"NIHE are content to have the bonfire on the Hope Street site until it is developed," she said.

"They want to work with bonfire builders to make sure the bonfire is managed in a way that it is expressing culture in a positive and safe manner.

"Once the site is developed it will be up to the community to determine what bonfire night looks like."

Glenda Davies of the Sandy Row Community Forum

Ms Davies made the comments in a conversation about the bonfire on Facebook some weeks ago.

She continued: "It's up to residents. NIHE just want it managed as it's their land and they want good relations with community.

"Council over the years have moved to control through the bonfire scheme which attached funding to materials used etc. Again up to community what they want to do next year."

Ms Davies has worked for more than 16 years as a strategic development manager for Sandy Row Community Forum.

The organisation recently produced a regeneration strategy for the area with the help of £5,000 of NIHE funding.

The document outlines opportunities to redevelop the Hope Street site and the organisation's intention to worth NIHE on the project.

The SDLP's Claire Hanna called for "fresh political leadership" to tackle bonfire issues.

"It is not appropriate for NIHE to give any form of endorsement to a bonfire that caused significant damage to property and to community relations in this area," the South Belfast MLA said.

"However, it shouldn't fall to public bodies or other landowners to chart their way through these issues and we believe fresh political leadership and legislation is required to address the most destructive aspect of these bonfires."

An NIHE spokesman said: "We do not provide formal permission for any bonfires on our land.

"However, we always work with local communities and other agencies to minimise any negative impacts from bonfires."

SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna

On the regeneration strategy, he added: "We promote an ethos of partnership, working with stakeholders around community planning principles.

"We contributed £5,000 to facilitate a community-led consultation process and for the production and launch of a report, liaising with the Sandy Row Community Forum.

"We are working with other agencies to establish a strategic development group for Sandy Row."

A compensation claim has been made against NIHE in a bid to recover the cost of the damage caused to Victoria Place.

NIHE had informed the apartment block's management firm about its public liability claims process to refer the details to insurers.

The bonfire was at the centre of controversy ahead of the Twelfth after The Irish News revealed the council had been storing pallets for the pyre at ratepayers' expense.

A probe has been launched by Belfast council to examine the decision to store pallets.

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