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Massive Belfast bonfire sited beside Holiday Inn city centre hotel

By Suzanne Breen

Building a bonfire at the side of a Belfast city centre hotel is an act of madness which will harm efforts to build tourism, politicians have warned.

Hundreds of pallets have amassed on land beside the Holiday Inn in Hope Street, which last year was the scene of one of Northern Ireland's most controversial bonfires.

Local SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said: "At a time when we are trying to grow our tourism industry, this is utterly insane.

"The last thing that visitors staying in any hotel want to do is look out on such a mess."

Formerly Days Hotel, it underwent a £2.5m upgrade last year and was rebranded as the Holiday Inn. The land beside the hotel, on which the bonfire is being built, is owned by the Housing Executive. A spokesman for the body said that, at the moment, it is not intending to take action.

"We currently have no plans to remove material from this site," he stated.

"But we will continue to work with the local community, the council, PSNI, Northern Ireland Fire Service and other agencies regarding the matter.

"Bonfires are traditional events and we work with and support communities to embrace cultural celebrations in a way that is non-threatening."

Ms Hanna criticised the authorities for not taking "decisive action" on some bonfires.

"At this time of year, so many agencies appear to be impotent," she said. "They walk on eggshells around these things instead of adopting a common-sense approach. I am not calling for bonfires to be banned.

"I understand that people are attached to them but those who build them just shouldn't be able to do so wherever they choose.

"A bonfire right beside a city centre hotel is not a good idea.

"Guests looking out their windows won't see a cultural celebration - to them it will just appear to be a pile of rubbish."

Ms Hanna said that the SDLP had tried last year to regulate bonfires.

"That is the best way of moving forward. Our proposals would have ensured that bonfires were built in the most appropriate locations and that they were safe," she added.

Alliance councillor Michael Long said: "A bonfire right beside a hotel obviously disrupts tourism. We are currently working hard to attract more jobs into the area and this won't help. But the bigger issue is that in a number of locations across Belfast, statutory agencies - including the Housing Executive, the council and police - seem unwilling to stand up for the rights of local residents and businesses.

"It would appear that those behind the bonfires can do whatever they like."

Mr Long said that Alliance had raised its concerns with council officers in recent weeks and was calling for a "much more robust approach" to be adopted.

Last year, hotel guests complained of groups of youths gathering at the bonfire in the run-up to the Eleventh Night.

One visitor commented in a TripAdvisor review: "Setting up the bonfire did nothing to improve stay or view from room.

"Noise continued late into the night, smell of smoke did not help."

Another guest wrote: "Not a pleasant experience, place was noisy, not such a nice area, drunks, verbal abuse, guys with Union flags. Looking forward to leaving Belfast."

The hotel is owned by Andras Hotels whose director is Rajesh Rana, the son of Lord Rana.

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