Belfast bonfire builders told pyre ‘not at a safe height’

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Bonfire builders in east Belfast have been urged to reduce the size of a pyre.

The Bloomfield Walkway bonfire caused controversy in recent years due to its proximity to houses.

In 2015 more than 50 homes in the area were boarded up to protect them from the bonfire.

This year the site has been moved away from properties.

It is one of a number of bonfires currently being built across Northern Ireland that will be lit on July 11 as part of the festivities to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

However, Belfast City Council issued a statement on Monday night urging bonfire builders at the Bloomfield Walkway site to remove surplus material to reduce the threat to property.

A spokesman said the bonfire had been measured on Monday morning and found to not be at a safe height.

“Belfast City Council recognises the huge effort made by council officers, councillors, mediators and community representatives in trying to resolve issues around bonfires this year,” the council spokesman said.

“All parties in the City Hall had agreed to work to improve the situation from last year.

“There has been some success in this regard, which is welcome, however, 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.”

The council added a call to the Department of Infrastructure, which owns the land the bonfire stands on, to intervene if there is “not a satisfactory resolution in the time remaining”.

“We would make a final plea to the bonfire builders to remove the surplus material so as to reduce the threat to property,” the council spokesman said.

“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.”

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood has called for the department to act to “protect homes”.

“Despite some small positive steps, the Bloomfield Walkway remains five times the safe height acceptable to be within the guidelines of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service,” he said.

“There is a clear evidence base that this bonfire may risk people’s health, homes and property.

“Indeed, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service have said they will have to put in place mitigation measures to protect homes including boarding up the windows of a number of houses. This is unacceptable.

“There is now a responsibility on the landowner, the Department for Infrastructure, to act to protect people’s homes which are at risk.”

East Belfast Community Initiative (EBCI) spokesman Jamie Bryson criticised the statement from Belfast City Council.

He warned community tensions are rising, saying: “The EBCI have been clear, we have worked tirelessly for the past year to deliver workable solutions. Loyalism is wholly committed to a peaceful summer of cultural celebration, yet it seems a small cabal of others are hellbent on dragging loyalism into a confrontation not of our making.

“We would strongly advise those driving this aggressive agenda to desist as community tensions are already beginning to rise at a rapid rate.

“Tonight’s latest intervention emanating from Belfast City Hall sends a very clear message of aggression towards the loyalist community and we would urge those intent on forcing a confrontation to reflect upon their actions.”

A Department for Infrastructure spokeswoman said:  “The bonfire at the Bloomfield Walkway is on departmental land and was erected without authority.

“The Department has acknowledged its responsibilities as a landowner from the outset and we have continued to work closely with all partners, including the Council, to manage the public safety risks.

“There is a continued need for a collective approach, to achieve the best possible outcome, in difficult circumstances.”

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