Belfast Telegraph

£30k for purpose-built bonfire site in Ballyduff estate ‘abuse of ratepayers’ cash’

BY AMANDA FERGUSON

The Alliance Party has accused the Housing Executive, the Environment Agency and the PSNI of “closing their eyes” to problems associated with Eleventh Night bonfires every year.

It came after Newtownabbey Borough Council voted 10-7 in favour of a £30,000 scheme to facilitate a purpose-built bonfire site in the Ballyduff estate.

Last year a bonfire in the area was built a short distance from people's homes, but was later moved after residents voiced concerns about potential damage to their properties.

Alliance councillor Billy Webb said: “We are in Pontius Pilate time.

“All statutory bodies wash their hands of responsibility every year. This time it has started in April.

“The Housing Executive close their eyes to it every year.

“The Environment Agency don’t permit tyres being burned, but they close their eyes to it every year. It is not a council responsibility, yet we’ve been sucked into it.”

SDLP councillor Noreen McClelland said there was “no guarantee” the £30,000 proposal for a 15m ‘estate feature’ wall and level bonfire site will solve the problem for Ballyduff residents.

“It’s not council land and the Housing Executive is not taking any action,” she said.

“It is important to note as a council there is an issue of the non-engagement of bonfire builders. We have tried to engage with them and they haven’t been forthcoming.

“Also, there are no guarantees of no tyres. Someone suggested there would be no tyres, but at the end of the day who is going to enforce that rule?

“I think it is not the way to spend ratepayers’ money and, of course, others will expect the same to happen at their site.”

A spokeswoman for the Housing

Executive said it had not yet been formally notified of the discussion on Ballyduff and explained it did not have a policy prohibiting bonfires on its land.

“The Housing Executive refutes the Alliance Party’s suggestion that the Housing Executive ‘closes their eyes’ to the bonfires issue,” the spokeswoman added. The NIEA also refuted Alliance claims.

“The DoE will use their powers, though it is not straightforward and it is far from a matter simply for NIEA,” a spokesman said.

“We cannot enforce without good evidence.

“In the majority of cases, the necessary evidence can realistically only be obtained by local residents, who would be understandably reluctant to provide statements in court.”

A PSNI spokeswoman said it was not the lead organisation on the issue of the siting of fires, but did have a role to play and would assist other statutory bodies to carry out their duties if asked.

Views of our Young Editors

MICHAEL McGRANE

“I think that such a colossal amount of money could go to many other, more deserving causes. As we leave a recession, such amounts of money can't be thrown about so flippantly.”

CHRISTOPHER SEELEY

“This is a colossal amount of money for an event that can raise community tensions.

How can Newtownabbey Borough Council justify spending such a sum of ratepayers’ money on a socially dividing issue?”

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