RATHCOOLE residents have said it is time for the authorities to step in and demolish a dangerous block of flats in the estate and secure the land.
It has been claimed the eight privately owned flats and surrounding site is being used by children to play in, as well as by youths drinking, taking drugs and fly-tipping.
Residents and community workers have been campaigning for years for something to be done about this problem.
Last week’s arson attack on the building is the latest in a long line of incidents at the site.
Residents have said that, besides the site being an eyesore, it is also a major safety risk to them and others who venture onto the property.
Mother of three young children, Pamela Devlin, lives next door to the flats and has said she fears for her own safety and that of her family.
She told the Times: “I am sick and tired of those flats, this has been going on for the past six years, it is long past the time something was done.
“It is a real worry, you can’t be sure you are safe - especially after the fire last week. I was out of the house for four hours that night and with my health and also a young child who was born premature, that does not help.
“I have a number of health problems. I suffered a brain infection and I am epileptic and the stress of living beside these flats is not helping. It is so easy for anyone just to walk on the land and into the flats I really fear for my children - you can’t watch them all the time and it only takes a second for something to happen.
“I like living here where I am, my family and friends are all close by, but I would consider having to move if something was not done - but then who would move into my house?”
She added: “The rats are the size of cats, you can’t go near them and I can’t have the children playing in my back garden because of them. To not allow the kids to play in their own garden is just a real shame.
“This is just not fair on those living around the flats; that this has been allowed to happen and for so long is a scandal.”
Councillor Billy Webb who gathered with residents at a demonstration held outside the flats on Monday, August 13, said: “This is an absolute disgrace and it is shocking how long this has been allowed to go on. I will be asking the council to examine what powers it has here to clear this site and secure it from anyone getting near it.
“In an area where there is a real need for housing, these flats would help solve part of that problem.” Councillor John Scott also stood alongside the residents during Monday’s demonstration.
He said: “It is a real pity this cannot be developed into much needed housing and has been allowed to deteriorate.
“The owners of the land need to step up here and take action on the site; this is a real health and safety risk and it needs to be secured.”
It is believed that councillors and council officers are due to meet with an owner of a number of the flats within the complex this week.
Councillor Thomas Hogg told the Times there was also a problem identifying who the actual owner of the building is.
He, along with MLA and councillor, Paula Bradley, and Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland have issued a joint statement to the Times.
They said: “We have had ongoing meetings with Newtownabbey Borough Council in recent months to explore what action can be taken to address problems at this site.
“The block of flats and adjacent land are in private ownership and it is unacceptable that they have been allowed to fall into such disrepair. The site has now become a magnet for dumping and poses a serious environmental health risk to those living nearby.
“We arranged a site meeting with Newtownabbey Borough Council and Northern Ireland Housing Executive to discuss the way forward for the site. A meeting will also be held later this week with the owner of the flats. We are calling on the council to use all powers at their disposal to direct the owner to have the site cleared and secured. In the long term we want to see the site brought back into community use and are aware of the high social housing demand in the area.
“We will continue to pursue this matter to a conclusion and will keep the local community informed of progress.”