Northern Ireland

Bonfire damage to apartment can 'never happen again'

Sandy row flats
Image caption The ten-storey apartment block in Wellwood Street

People living in an apartment complex in Belfast which was damaged by an Eleventh night bonfire, have been given assurances that such damage will not be allowed to happen again.

Fire crews stopped the bonfire spreading to the apartment near Sandy Row but the building's windows cracked.

About 30 residents held a meeting on Wednesday to express their concerns.

Bonfires are traditionally lit in loyalist areas on 11 July, marking the Twelfth of July commemorations.

Politicians and representatives from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS), PSNI, Belfast City Council and Housing Executive also attended the meeting.

The Housing Executive, which owns the land where the bonfire was built said "further meetings" would take place to address residents' concerns.

"A number of key stakeholders and partner agencies also attended this evening's meeting, and we look forward to working together to achieve a positive outcome for residents as soon as possible".

Image copyright Courtesy of Ken Early
Image caption The Sandy Row bonfire came very close to a ten-storey apartment block in Wellwood Street

The meeting came nearly a week on from a similar meeting held to discuss who will pay for repairs.

One resident told the BBC there was now a "plan of action" in place and meetings with residents to discuss making the bonfire safer in future years had been planned.

However she said the meeting did not resolve the matter of paying for repairs.

'Not invited'

After criticism that he did not attend last week's meeting the DUP MLA for South Belfast Christopher Stalford told the BBC that he had not received an invitation to the meeting.

"I have a constituency office in Sandy Row, if any person who wishes to meet with me and I will make myself available," he added.

The BBC spoke to residents and politicians afterwards.

One female resident, who did not wish to be identified, said the meeting had been "productive".

"Everyone still seems confused over who is responsible for what. The fact that there is a lack of legislation as regards bonfires means we don't know who the buck stops with, so there is a lot of passing the buck going on.

"We do have a plan of action in place. The residents are going to be in touch with different governmental bodies, safety organisations and local groups to see what can be done to make the bonfire safer in future.

"Sandy Row is a great place to live and the Eleventh night can be a great, fun night but this year safety wasn't ensured," she added.

Image caption Damage to windows of the apartment near Belfast's Sandy Row

A male resident said: "Ultimately I think residents feel someone is now listening. Is there anything being done - no? Are we hopeful something could be done? Possibly.

"That in 2017 a building of this size nearly caught fire, because of a bonfire that was entirely predictable, is reprehensible.

"We aren't opposing the bonfire, just damage to our homes," he explained.

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Media captionThe Sandy Row bonfire burns close to the Victoria Place apartment block

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw described the meeting as "very useful".

"There were a good number of representatives from the main statutory agencies.

"The highlight of the meeting was that the Housing Executive have now realised what they have to do. They are going to look to see how they put in place a framework and process so they can deliver this into the future.

"This was an issue last year and the year before and the residents were concerned as to why it has taken so long to wake up," she added.

Image caption Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw described the meeting as "very useful"

Green Party MLA for South Belfast Clare Bailey, agreed that it had been a good meeting.

"All the agencies finally presented themselves to come and talk to the residents. The residents are still feeling fearful and need to be reassured they are being listened to.

"The agencies were here, listening and they were offering to help.

"No-one has accepted liability yet and there have been no promises as regards fixing the damage but as far as I am aware there has been safety film put over the broken glass to avoid further damage".

Sinn Féin councillor Deirdre Hargey said she was "thankful" agencies had attended: "This meeting was long overdue.

"There is no clarity in terms of moving forward they did give a commitment that what happened cannot happen again next year.

"They have agreed to start engaging with residents."

Image caption Sinn Féin councillor Deirdre Hargey said residents should not be paying for damage

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said there was still "huge frustration" from residents.

"There is no silver bullet but there is a commitment by agencies and political representatives to work with the residents. We may not get rid of these activities but we can mitigate and protect their property.

"I don't blame the agencies - we need a legal framework for this. The agencies want some legal protection. There needs to be political leadership and a conjoined effort so each individual public body doesn't have to pick through the mire and deal with the flack themselves. "

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