Belfast Telegraph

Fire-starters making Village life a misery

By Rebecca Petticrew

Residents of the Village area of south Belfast say their lives are being put at risk by the refusal of anyone in authority to tackle anti-social behaviour in the area.

The area is undergoing redevelopment, with hundreds of houses being razed as part of a multi-million pound regeneration scheme by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Large areas of waste ground have been created during the demolition process and, as reported in the Community Telegraph on August 1, antisocial behaviour including fly tipping and the theft of scrap metal, bricks, lead flashing and rooftiles is commonplace.

Most concerning to local residents are the health implications caused from inhaling acrid smoke produced by daily fires on the waste ground — fires they believe are being used to melt rubber casing from wires so the metal can be sold for scrap.

The handful of people still living in the demolition zone are calling for those in authority, such as police and Belfast City Council’s Environmental Health department, to take action to put a stop to the “dangerous” practice.

“The situation is diabolical,” says Louisa Blackburn whose home is one of only two properties remaining on what was a terraced street. “Nobody cares, nobody is stepping up to the mark to actually do something about this. It’s not only an anti-social behaviour issue, it’s a health issue for people in the area,” she explained.

“The smoke is thick, black acrid stuff, it smells like exhaust fumes. It burns your nostrils and hurts your throat if you breathe it in.

“I couldn’t leave my house on Tuesday morning as there was a fire burning and as soon as I stepped out of my door I was hit by the smoke; I could feel it going for my chest and I had to go back inside.

“Our lives are being put at risk and nobody is taking action to put a stop to this,” she said. “I am reporting everything religiously as instructed by the Environmental Health department and still nothing is being done.

“Our homes were bought under compulsory purchase orders; the Housing Executive turned us from home owners into renters. I lost £40,000 and I know others lost more. And we’re left living in this, it’s despicable,” she added.

A police spokesperson said the PSNI are taking steps to tackle a “number of issues” in the area, directing more resources into the area where possible.

“The specific issue of toxic fumes resulting from the burning of cabling was raised with police in the last week and we are in the process of arranging discussions with the council’s Environmental Health department about this,” they added.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive said the organisation is aware of ongoing vandalism and illegal dumping in the area and staff are on site daily to inspect vacant properties and re-secure vandalised dwellings as quickly as possible.

“The Housing Executive totally condemns this type of behaviour, which is not only illegal but causes a health hazard for those still living in the area,” they said.

“It has to be recognised that no single agency can deal with this issue. We have and will continue to work closely with the PSNI, Environmental Health and the local community to try to identify those responsible so that appropriate action can be taken against them."

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said they received calls from two residents this week about the problem. “We are working with the PSNI on resolving the matter. In the meantime, we would appeal for anyone with information on the burning of cables at this site to contact police.”

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