Council stumps up £190,000 for 'landscaping works' at UVF-linked bonfire site as unionists councillors say 'no' to future pyres
LANDSCAPING works at a UVF-linked bonfire site mired in controversy have cost the public purse £190,000.
Flat land has been changed to low hummocks as part of "environmental improvements" which saw Bloomfield Walkway closed off for the entire summer.
The move is believed to be aimed at discouraging the controversial east Belfast pyre from being built in future years.
The Eleventh Night bonfire has repeatedly caused controversy due to its size and proximity to nearby homes.
Masked contractors were sent to remove bonfire material last year after a judge ordered Stormont officials to take action.
The High Court heard the towering pyre was under the control of "sinister forces" within the east Belfast UVF.
In 2015, dozens of families had to flee their homes when the bonfire was built along the walkway next to Chobham Street.
The Bloomfield Walkway reopened at the end of August.
New benches and path resurfacing were included in the improvement works, which were funded by Stormont and carried out by Belfast City Council.
They said the project was aimed at creating a "welcoming, safe and attractive" public space and improving accessibility for walkers and cyclists.
UUP councillor Jim Rodgers described it as a "magnificent job" and "good value for money".
He denied the works were related to discouraging a bonfire, but he urged bonfire builders to seek an alternative site.
"After spending that amount of money the last thing we need is a bonfire to damage any land or property," he said.
PUP councillor John Kyle has also welcomed the improvements and said it would be "inappropriate to build a bonfire in that area in future".
It follows a summer which saw tensions escalate over numerous bonfires in the north.
In July a pyre at Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast was the focus of a stand-off with loyalists over council efforts to remove it, while in August police were injured at a bonfire site in north Belfast's nationalist New Lodge area.