A number of trees planted by the Housing Executive on a ‘bonfire site’ in Banbridge were cut down within hours, causing over £4,000 worth of damage.
As part of a regeneration scheme, contractors planted trees on the green space owned by the Executive at Edenderry Gardens last Thursday.
Later that night, all of the trees were destroyed.
The incident has been reported to police who say they are investigating.
The area is well known as the traditional site of an Eleventh Night bonfire.
The Housing Executive’s Banbridge assistant housing services manager, Pauline Beattie, said: “It is extremely disappointing for our staff and local residents to arrive and see the destruction caused when we have worked tirelessly to improve the aesthetics of the area.
“The costs to provide these trees came directly from the rental income provided by our tenants – at a time when public finances are under pressure it puts further investment at this locality in jeopardy.”
Local councillor Glenn Barr condemned the vandalism but said that consultation should have taken place with local representatives and/or the local population to determine the best place for the trees to be planted.
He said: “In terms of the trees, they should know that this is the area that is used for the annual Eleventh Night bonfire. The trees would have been damaged anyway.
“If they had asked the local representatives they could have told them that the bonfire goes there every year.
“I am at the forefront in dissolving community tensions and will continue to do so. I am more than happy to meet anyone to diffuse this.”
Condemning the criminal damage to the trees, DUP Upper Bann Assembly candidate Carla Lockhart called into question the decision to plant the trees in a location well known to host the bonfire.
She said: “Obviously I would condemn criminal damage of any sort, however I would question the NIHE’s decision to plant these trees in this location in the first place.
“There has been a long tradition of bonfires on this site. In recent years there has been an improvement in community relations between the bonfire committee and the residents.
“I have been speaking with the Housing Executive to question the rationale and am assured that this has come about as a general scheme to improve the aesthetics of the area.
“However, I am concerned that no consultation was carried out with the bonfire committee and the residents.
“Over £4,000 has been lost and this is bitterly disappointing. I have been assured that no further work will take place.
“I have also spoken to the PSNI and asked for a full investigation into the criminal damage.
“This is unacceptable behaviour.”