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Residents’ fears confirmed as digger ruins prize garden

After a lengthy protest against a development they feared could endanger their houses, the concerns of Willowfield residents became reality when a wall collapsed into their gardens after work started on Friday.

Willowfield Crescent resident Jim Luney (75), who works in his garden every day, described the incident which happened when workmen began demolishing the former St Anthony’s parochial house.

“I was having my usual lie down, and I heard a great noise,” he said, shaken. “When I looked out, the wall had come down. Everything was knocked down, railings, plants, apple trees. All the plants and the pots were destroyed.”

Mr Luney has won multiple Northern Ireland-wide awards for his garden. “I’ve spent 11 years since I’ve been here doing up that garden, and there’s everything in it. I feel terrible,” he said.

Residents have been fighting against the development plans for four years.

They worried that the intended buildings — 16 apartments in three-storey high blocks — were too high, and would cause the builders to dig too deep.

The DOE received 24 letters of objection and two petitions with a total of 95 signatures in relation to the planning application, but the plans were approved and demolition of the existing parochial house went ahead on Wednesday.

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Fr McBrearty of St Anthony’s Church, who applied for the planning permission, said that he had sold the land to Helm Housing and was no longer involved.

Aideen D’Arcy, director of development at Helm Housing, who are acting as development agent for Wesley Housing Association, said: “Regrettably one of our contractors caused damage to a section of the neighbouring garden wall by hitting it with a digger last Friday.

“Our contractor has accepted full responsibility and has agreed to fully re-instate the wall and address any other damage caused to the planting associated with the incident. The remedial work will be undertaken as soon as possible.”

Mr Luney worries that building work will carry on and endanger the next section of the wall, which spans nearly his entire garden. Over the weekend, further cracks have appeared, and the coping stones on top of the wall have moved significantly.

He also expressed concern about asbestos found in the old building.

A spokesperson from the Health and Safety Executive has confirmed that asbestos was “sealed in plastic sheeting and removed safely from the site for proper disposal.”

They stress that the site poses no risk to public health.

East Belfast UUP MLA Michael Copeland, said residents’ “worst fears have come to pass”.

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