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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK
Counting the environmental cost of bonfires
By Niall Blaney
BBC News Website

A prototype beacon is being developed to replace traditional eleventh night bonfires in Northern Ireland.

Burning bonfire
Almost 160,000 is being given to the project this year

Belfast City Council said it was working with other authorities to create a safe structure which could be used by communities in the future.

The beacons are being promoted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to normal bonfires.

It comes as arguments continue over the burning of illegal materials at bonfire sites, including the highly toxic fumes from used tyres.

The burning of tyres is illegal, however, many sites still have them among the material being collected for the 11 July fires.

Environment Minister Arlene Foster said their burning at eleventh night bonfires should be followed up with prosecutions.

"You cannot put tyres on bonfires anymore," she said.

"If they are doing it, then that is a leave for prosecution, because tyres are not allowed to be burned and that is an issue for the local council to take up with those people.

"I want the message to go out today that tyres are not something for a bonfire."

Belfast City Council said it had removed illegal materials from sites over the past number of months.

"Where there is evidence, the council has and will continue to enforce and prosecute illegal dumpers," a spokeswoman told the BBC News Website.

A metal perimeter fence has been put around the Annadale bonfire site
People are used to designing sites and not burning tyres and other materials that are injurious to the environment

At Annadale Embankment, off Belfast's Ormeau Road, a high metal perimeter fence has been put around a bonfire site.

The council said the fencing aimed to prevent illegal dumping and fly-tipping on the site.

"The local bonfire committee have successfully maintained a start collection date of the 1 June, and this has been well managed by the putting in place of the fence," said the spokeswoman.

A third of the 45 sites in Belfast have signed up to the bonfire management programme, which is part of a council pilot project.

Pilot project

Last year, Belfast City Council give 90,000 to community groups in an effort to promote more environmentally-friendly bonfires.

This year, almost 160,000 is being given in funding, with 50,000 from the council, 25,000 each from the Housing Executive, the PSNI and NIO, and 34,250 from the Community Relations Council and OFM/DFM.

The SDLP had said it would monitor the pilot project.

The party's Alban Maginness said the party supported the pilot project in general terms.

"We thought it would be better to move on this than just have the complete anarchy that previously existed," he said.

"There has been headway and it is significantly better. People are becoming accustomed to some sort of control, albeit very loose, and restrictions, albeit at an early stage.

Tyres at a bonfire
Tyres continue to be illegally burned at bonfire sites

"I am not saying there have been dramatic changes, but people are used to designing sites and not burning tyres and other materials that are injurious to the environment.

"Progress has been made. It is not to everyone's satisfaction, nor will it be for some time to come.

"But I believe that in the future, there will be more restrictive measures and more control on the way bonfires are built and lit."

However, in Antrim a bonfire being erected in the Ballycraigy estate is reported to contain up to 200 car and lorry tyres.

Mayor Adrian Cochrane Watson told the BBC the site has not signed up to the code of conduct which was introduced.

He said the council had spoken to all tyre suppliers in the town and the PSNI had warned them that it was illegal to put tyres on a bonfire.

"We have removed tyres from sites which have been illegally dumped," said Mr Watson.

"I visited the site last night again. Last year because of the scale we did have to bring in almost 20 skips we had to position them around the wall. That charge goes on the rates."

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