Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council plans injunction to force Stormont officials to act over 'unsafe' bonfire

 

By Andrew Madden and Allan Preston

Belfast City Council is preparing to file an injunction against Stormont's Department for Infrastructure (DfI) over a bonfire in the east of the city, it has emerged.

The news emerged as City Hall issued a final plea with bonfire builders to reduce the height of the pyre. Yesterday, councillors met with DfI permanent secretary Peter May for two impromptu, behind-closed-doors meetings about the scale of the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire.

The meetings - involving the council's Strategic Policy and Resources (SPR) committee - followed similar unsuccessful discussions over the weekend between councillors and DfI officials about removing some of the material from the controversial pyre.

Yesterday, however, the extra material remained on the Bloomfield bonfire - one of four east Belfast pyres issued with injunctions last year to prevent any more material being brought to the sites.

The site where the bonfire is situated is primarily owned by the DfI. However, the council does have infrastructure nearby, including a play park, and it owns land on the site's northern boundary.

According to sources, Mr May and DfI officials were of the view that the bonfire is "manageable".

Yesterday evening talks appeared to break down, with one councillor saying: "The discussions were far from a meeting of minds, to put it lightly."

In a statement issued last night, the SPR committee said that while there had been some success in relation to bonfires since last year, "the situation at the Bloomfield Walkway has continued to prove difficult".

"Despite efforts by a range of agencies, the bonfire has been measured this morning as not being at a safe height acceptable to be within the guidelines of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service," it said.

"We would make a final plea to the bonfire builders to remove the surplus material so as to reduce the threat to property.

"However, we recognise that the land on which the bonfire is built is owned by the Department for Infrastructure and so it is their responsibility.

"If there is not a satisfactory resolution in the time remaining, the council calls upon the Department for Infrastructure to take all measures possible to reduce the potential damage to local properties."

Following the Hightown incinerator judgment earlier this year, which raised questions over the validity of ministerial decision-making in the absence of an Executive, Stormont departments are now wary of making any potentially contentious decisions.

Sources said that if an agreed way forward is not found tomorrow, Belfast City Council officers will proceed to take out an injunction against DfI with a view to forcing the department to take action.

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said his party was "extremely disappointed" at DfI's take on the issue and is concerned about the potential risk to life as well as damage to residents and council property.

"DfI is letting down the residents in the vicinity of Bloomfield Walkway," he said.

"We feel, and so do many other parties, that the department have it in their power to reduce the size of the bonfire to ensure there is no, or at least limit as much as possible, any threat to life and property.

"If it comes to it, we hope officers are successful in securing an injunction against DfI that would see them take steps to mitigate any potential damage that could be caused by the fire - it's not too late to do the right thing."

In 2015 the bonfire forced the evacuation of 50 residents from their homes on nearby Chobham Street.

The East Belfast Community Initiative (EBCI) said this year's pyre has been moved further along the walkway to the "safest available space" and that about half the material had been removed on June 30 due to community concerns.

Photos taken on Friday morning appeared to show it had been built back up to the same size.

The PSNI said it had no powers to remove bonfire material, but would work with other statutory bodies responsible if requested. The Department for Infrastructure has yet to provide a response.

Meanwhile, in Newtownards it's feared thousands of homes could be left without power after a large bonfire was erected beside an electrical sub-station on Circular Road.

With materials previously removed from the area in May, there was anger from residents on Sunday as police watched while the pyre was rebuilt.

One resident said he believed the bonfire was at the centre of a loyalist paramilitary feud.

"The possible damage this could cause is horrendous," he said. "The police watched when the lorry turned up (on Sunday) with bonfire material; apparently it had been kept in a secret location. So it was backed up on to the green and there were hundreds and hundreds of pallets and a group of maybe 15 grown men with some youths helping to build it."

NIE Networks said it was aware of the bonfire and was liaising with the statutory authorities.

"The electricity network is safe when left alone but can be dangerous if you get too close," it said.

"Our advice is simple and applies in all situations - stay safe by staying well away from overhead electricity lines and equipment."

It has been revealed that the Fire and Rescue Service has dealt with 1,809 bonfires in five years at a cost of almost £330,000.

The Detail website said that between 2013 and 2017, 36% of these call-outs occurred in July each year.

Meanwhile, a video of the Kilcooley pyre in Bangor collapsing at the weekend has been widely shared on social media.

Belfast Telegraph

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