Northern Ireland news

Site of notorious east Belfast bonfire reopens after landscaping works

Brendan Hughes

A loyalist bonfire returning to an east Belfast walkway which has undergone landscaping works would be "inappropriate", a unionist councillor has said.

Bloomfield Walkway has reopened after being closed for almost five months for a range of "environmental improvements", including flat land being changed to low hummocks.

It has previously been the site of a notorious July bonfire which has caused controversy over successive years.

Last year, masked contractors were sent to remove the pyre after a judge ordered a Stormont department to take action.

The High Court heard that the towering pyre was under the control of "sinister forces" within the east Belfast UVF and posed a serious threat to nearby homes.

The bonfire was also among four included in a landmark court injunction secured by Belfast City Council in 2017 following safety concerns over their size.

And in 2015 the bonfire forced 50 families to flee their homes when it was built along the walkway next to Chobham Street.

No pyre was built this summer while the walkway remained closed off since early April.

The improvement works included new benches, better lighting and resurfacing to benefit cyclists and pedestrians.

The land is owned by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) which provided funding for the scheme, and the work was carried out by Belfast council.

Neither public body would say yesterday how much the works cost.

They also would not be drawn on whether the works were intended to prevent a bonfire being built on the walkway in future years.

PUP councillor John Kyle welcomed the improvements and said he hoped the benches and lighting would be extended further along the Comber Greenway.

"People can speculate on the timing and purpose or whatever, but the bottom line is I think we have got improvement to the area that enhances the area and is much appreciated by local residents."

He added: "I think it would be inappropriate to build a bonfire in that area in future years. I think the bonfire builders and the community will look for other more suitable locations for future bonfires."

Jonathan Hobbs, a cycling campaigner and writer of blogs NI Greenways and Bikefast, welcomed the improvement works.

"Any investment in helping people to travel around the city without cars is a good thing," he said.

"The Comber Greenway and Bloomfield Walkway have been there for some time and are well established, but needed more investment."

A council spokeswoman said the section of Bloomfield Walkway between the Beersbridge Road and Upper Newtownards Road reopened at the end of August.

"The land is owned by the Department for Infrastructure which provided funding for the scheme, and the work was carried out by Belfast City Council," she said.

"The project is part of wider improvement plans for the east of the city which aim to regenerate key stretches of the Greenway down to Titanic railway halt to improve open spaces and the travel infrastructure."

DfI did not respond to requests for a comment.

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