Video: Opinion divided over £27k spend on Ballyduff ‘bonfire site’

Work on the construction of a £27,000 feature wall in the Ballyduff estate is due to be completed by the end of this week, the council has confirmed.

The 15m-long stone wall on Housing Executive-owned land at Forthill Drive has a level surface behind it which will be used for the estate’s annual July 11 bonfire.

Eddie Bell (left) and Robert McDowell (right) of Ballyduff Community Redevelopment Group with Cllr Robert Hill and PUP representative Jackie Shaw in front of the estate's new 'entrance feature'. INNT 23-512CON

Eddie Bell (left) and Robert McDowell (right) of Ballyduff Community Redevelopment Group with Cllr Robert Hill and PUP representative Jackie Shaw in front of the estate's new 'entrance feature'. INNT 23-512CON

While some people in the area have welcomed the ‘entrance feature’ development, others living near the site are not so keen on the new structure, arguing that ratepayers should not be paying for the provision of a ‘bonfire site’.

The council decided to undertake the project in a bid to avoid a repeat of the situation which arose in the estate last year when the bonfire was built close to people’s homes, sparking fears about the safety of people and property. The massive pyre was later moved following a meeting between residents, bonfire organisers, politicians and community representatives.

Work on the ‘feature wall’ began last week following consultation with local residents, community representatives and members of Ballyduff Community Redevelopment Group.

The group, which works with children and young people in the estate, is delighted that the long-awaited development is finally under way.

“I think it looks really good. It’s going to be a great centre piece for the estate,” said spokesman Robert McDowell. “The bonfire issue has been running since 2006, so it’s good that something has now been done about it.”

He stressed that the new site won’t only be used for the bonfire, but also other community events throughout the year.

The group, which has previously carried out initiatives with young people in the estate involving organisations such as FASA and the Prince’s Trust, is keen to use the Forthill Drive site for First World War centenary commemorations and other events over the coming months, as well as its annual Halloween and Christmas celebrations.

However, not everyone is happy with the development, planning permission for which hasn’t yet been granted.

One disgruntled Forthill Drive homeowner, who didn’t want to be named, told the Times: “Ratepayers’ money should never have been spent on this. Now that they (the council) have built a permanent bonfire site here we are not going to be able to sell our house if we ever want to move. A lot of other people are in the same situation. I will be seeking compensation for the value of my house going down - from the council, the Housing Executive or whoever.”

But Cllr Robert Hill, who has been involved in negotiations about the site, disagrees, arguing that the feature wall will not have a negative impact on house prices.

“From the results of two local surveys it was very clear that the majority of residents were keen for the council to move ahead with the environmental improvement scheme proposed for the estate.

“If you compare it to the mess that was here last year then this is a significant improvement,” he said.

Pointing out that the bonfire organisers have signed up to ‘bonfire protocol’, which will come into effect next year, he continued: “A meeting was held last week between a council officer, myself and bonfire builders where a bonfire protocol was agreed which includes no collection of material before an agreed date (third week of May), no burning of tyres, listening to advice from the Fire Service, keeping the site as tidy as possible and discouraging dumping and annoyance to neighbours.

“As with any agreement not everyone will be totally happy, but I believe this to be a sensible and huge step forward for all in the estate and now hopefully we can all look forward to a safer and cleaner eleventh night celebration.”

PUP representative Jackie Shaw added: “I know it’s not going to suit everyone, but it is a major improvement on what we had in the estate last year.

“It’s a nice addition to the estate and it’s going to be looked after and the community will take ownership of it.”

A council spokesperson confirmed that planning approval hasn’t yet been obtained for the construction of the wall, but she stressed that officers are in the process of submitting an application.

Regarding the ownership of the land, she said: “The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has granted a temporary licence to enable the works to proceed. Longer term arrangements are currently being discussed.”

She stressed that the council’s preferred option is for it to carry out the works but for the land to remain in the ownership of the Executive, meaning it would retain responsibility for the site.

“Given the tight timescale involved in undertaking the works the short term licence was agreed. At this point the council has not committed to rent or purchase the land,” she added.