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Housing Executive pays out compensation for loyalist bonfire damage

A bonfire at Ravenscroft Avenue in Belfast earlier this year
Brendan Hughes

THE Housing Executive has paid out thousands of pounds in compensation for damage caused by loyalist bonfires built on its land.

Almost 30 public liability claims have been made against the housing body after bonfires damaged property and possessions, records obtained by The Irish News reveal.

The Housing Executive (NIHE) settled in five cases, paying out in total almost £3,000 in taxpayers' cash.

Nationalist politicians described the payouts as "incredible" and urged NIHE to do more to prevent bonfires being constructed on its land.

Three compensation claims made this summer remain outstanding.

They include the high-profile case in July where a loyalist bonfire caused damage to a Belfast apartment block.

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

Shocked residents described how the towering inferno toppled towards their building as they looked on from inside.

The bonfire was built close to a hotel in central Belfast on disused land owned by NIHE.

Ahead of the Twelfth of July, the bonfire also caused controversy after The Irish News revealed Belfast City Council had been storing pallets for it at ratepayers' expense.

An in-house investigation has been launched by the council to examine the decision to store pallets.

The other two claims against NIHE still to be decided upon are for damage caused following a bonfire at Oakwood Road in Carrickfergus.

The compensation claim details were uncovered by The Irish News through a freedom of information request.

Since August 2013, a total of 28 public liability claims have been made, but NIHE refused to pay in most cases.

Residents of Victoria Place, Sandy Row, met with statutory agencies regarding damage to their apartment block caused by a bonfire close by on the eleventh night...Photograph By Declan Roughan 19th July 2017...

SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna said: "It's incredible that taxpayers are footing the bill for compensation as a result of these wild, out-of-control bonfires and the damage they cause.

"This problem raises its head every year. The clear solution is for the Housing Executive to take action to ensure that these infernos are not constructed on land that poses a risk to property or life.

"That should be a basic duty. For as long as properties continue to be damaged, that duty is being failed.

"We all have a role to play in ensuring communities can celebrate their culture without impinging on the rights and safety of others."

Sinn Féin Belfast councillor Deirdre Hargey said: "If damage has been done by a bonfire on public land that was not challenged by the public authority that owns the land, then that public authority should be held liable.

"At the time of the damage to Victoria Place apartments we called on the Housing Executive as the landowner and the council as the bodies storing pallets to compensate those affected.

"Sinn Féin is opposed to bonfires where they present a threat to life, to property, to the environment, where they cause damage to public amenities and where they facilitate hate crime activities.

"It is the city's ratepayers and the taxpayers who have to foot the cost of this year in and year out despite many of these bonfires being built against the wishes of local communities.

"The law is being broken and flouted and the relevant statutory bodies have a duty to act and deal with unacceptable bonfires."

An NIHE spokeswoman said: "The Housing Executive does not sanction the use of our lands for bonfires. We have and will continue to remove bonfire materials where possible, particularly with community consent.

"Where consent is not forthcoming, we seek to mitigate the worst effects of bonfires in conjunction with other agencies.

"This approach would include removing dangerous waste from bonfire sites, containing materials in specific locations and protecting adjacent properties from scorch and fire damage.

"The Housing Executive is also involved in the clean-up and making good of land after the bonfire is burnt out."

Bonfires in both nationalist and loyalist areas caused weeks of controversy over the summer.

In July, homes beside some loyalist bonfires were boarded up and doused with water by firefighters amid safety fears.

And in August, police in Belfast were attacked and cars torched by youths angered by council contractors removing bonfire materials in some nationalist areas.

Last year The Irish News revealed clean-up costs for Eleventh Night bonfires are around £140,000 annually based on figures from councils, NIHE and the Department for Infrastructure.

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Compensation claims against the Housing Executive for damage caused by bonfires

Claim status description:

Closed: Claims taken over or withdrawn

Repudiated: NIHE denies any negligence

Written off: Written off following a repudiation and no action

Settled: Compensation paid

Location

Date claim made

Damage and outcome

Antrim August 2013 Double-glazed window damaged (written off)
Newtownabbey August 2013 Damage to PVC window, guttering and hedges (written off)
Shankill, Belfast August 2014 Burn holes in trampoline, garden furniture and child's inflatable toy (Settled, £250)
Shankill, Belfast August 2014 Damage to shed roof, four chairs and table (Settled, £270)
Shankill, Belfast September 2014 Front guttering (Closed)
Shankill, Belfast September 2014 Smoke and water damage to wooden floor, bedroom and landing stair carpet, decoration in bedroom, front bedroom and back bedroom blinds, double bed, mattress, blanket, covers, pillows, towels, clothes, hair straighteners (Settled, £1,543.49)
Limavady November 2014 Severe damage to outside of property (Closed)
Limavady  February 2015  Damage to PVC door (Settled, £691)
Bangor  June 2015  Damage to car (Written off)
Dungannon  July 2015  Damaged two windows, two panes cracked (Written off)
Albany House, Belfast  February 2016  Windows cracked, damaged due to bonfire heat (Written off)
Granville Road, Portadown  June 2016  Damage to front door (Closed)
Edenmore Park, Limavady  July 2016  Windows and frame of back door melted (Repudiated)
Mournebeg Drive, Newtownabbey  August 2016  Holes burnt in trampoline (Repudiated)
Hopewell Square, Shankill, Belfast  August 2016  Personal belongings and furniture (Repudiated)
Oakwood Road, Carrickfergus  August 2016  Damage to window sills, guttering, facia and soffit (Repudiated)
Oakwood Road, Carrickfergus  August 2016  Damage to guttering, facia PVC melted (Repudiated)
Princess Way, Portadown  August 2016  Trampoline (Repudiated)
Oakwood Road, Carrickfergus  September 2016  PVC melted, concrete broken at front of property, smoke and foam damage (Repudiated)
Hopewell Square, Shankill, Belfast  October 2016  All household furniture and appliances (Repudiated)
Spelga Park, Lurgan  February 2017  Facia boards melted (Repudiated)
Glenburn Road,Newtownards  July 2017  Artificial grass burnt, scorched and melted (Repudiated)
Oakwood Road, Carrickfergus  July 2017  Damage to fascia board and guttering (Repudiated)
Oakwood Road, Carrickfergus  July 2017  Front of property smoke damaged, drains melted and PVC windows damaged (Outstanding)
Kinross Avenue, Belfast  August 2017  Gable, garage (Repudiated)
Victoria Place, Belfast  August 2017  Significant damage to structure, including cracked or shattered windows, melted windowsills and smoke damage. Damage not yet been quantified (Outstanding)
Oakwood Road, Carrickfergus  August 2017  Guttering, fascias and soffits (Outstanding)

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