Belfast Telegraph

Holyland residents: please give us back our wardens

Rebecca Black

Residents of Belfast's main student quarter have pleaded with the city council to restore a warden scheme, claiming they are living in terror of drunken revellers.

The Holyland area of south Belfast close to Queen's University hit the headlines in 2009 when St Patrick's Day street parties turned into a riot.

Drunken students attacked police, set fire to cars, threw bottles and stones at PSNI riot lines and blocked off streets.

There is a high proportion of students who rent in the area alongside a handful of the remaining long-term residents.

Last year community safety wardens were deployed in the Holyland area from September 9 in the run-up to Freshers Week and remained in the area once term started.

But they were left in the lurch this year after the service was withdrawn.

Two residents' representatives last night made a presentation to the monthly meeting of Belfast City Council, saying that disturbances have increased significantly this year.

Liam Kielty and Ray Farrell said the situation is worst at the end of August and start of September each year as the new students arrive to study at Queen's University, University of Ulster and Belfast Metropolitan College.

Mr Kielty, who is the Holyland resident spokesman, told the council that drunken youths knock windows and kick doors trying to get into houses, thinking there might be a party there.

He said pensioners have become so scared that they are living with wooden sticks in their hallway in case they need to defend themselves and they are too scared to turn the light on at night.

"We are appealing for the reinstalment of wardens in the Holylands," he told the council.

"This is a community under duress, the problems are not internal but external with students bringing with them some of the most undesirable elements.

"For the residents it is a nightly form of torture with mobs of drinks roaming the streets, knocking windows and kicking at doors trying to get in to a party they mistakenly think is happening there.

"Pensioners are afraid to turn on their lights at nights. Pensioners are living with wooden sticks in their doorways."

Mr Kielty said in their discussions with the Queen's University Students' Union, they are aware that students are also frightened to walk through the area.

"We are a community whose basic human right of a night's sleep and to live without fear are being denied," he said.

"Without wardens we are powerless, police are also under pressure. We had a system that was bringing results."

Mr Farrell thanked the council for its efforts, including installing CCTV, but backed Mr Kielty's calls for wardens. He said the number of incidents increased significantly this year, quoting PSNI figures which he said between August 15 and September 3, 2012 recorded 68 incidents in the area, compared to 300 recorded for the same period in 2013.

"There has been an enormous increase, we certainly need some help from Belfast City Council to address this," he told the council.

"Every year a new influx of students start for the new academic year and a new cycle starts.

"This is a plea from everyone, can you have something like a warden scheme because it did work when it was there."

The council agreed to consider the two comments.

BACKGROUND: THE COSTS

The cost of combating student anti-social behaviour costs Belfast's ratepayers millions of pounds. In early 2012, the Belfast Telegraph revealed how the cost of 'managing' the situation in the Holyland area had spiralled from £500,000 in 2006 to £2.7m in 2010 – £1.5m being spent by the City Council on cleansing services, community wardens and CCTV, while a further £4m was spent by the PSNI in tackling anti-social behaviour.

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