Arson at a former fast-food outlet in Ballykelly, which has been repeatedly vandalised since it closed three years ago, has resulted in a chorus of calls for the “eyesore” building to be demolished.
The former KFC just off the village’s Main Street was set alight around 5.24am on Saturday. Police, and fire crews from Limavady and Derry, attended the blaze, which was well alight. The fire was extinguished, but substantial damage was caused to the already badly vandalised building.
“The fire on the ground floor was contained to the signage and to the exterior of the building. It appeared that the fire had been started deliberately. The incident was dealt with at 6.51am,” said a NIFRS spokesperson.
The ‘Journal’ has previously reported on the gradual dereliction of the vacant building, with residents claiming it was being used as a drinking den where household rubbish was being dumped, attracting rats, and leaving dangerous debris such as broken glass. Even the ‘For Sale’ sign was ripped apart and attempts made to burn it.
Businesses, residents and local politicians say it’s now time for what’s left of the building to be knocked down. Jim Peoples, owner of the nearby Drummond Hotel said: “It’s an eyesore and seems to have atttracted vandals, but surely now it must be flattened,” he told the ‘Journal’. “I just wonder if the local Council has the power to step in and do anything. The way it has stood has done nothing to help the village.”
Tina McCloskey of the Ballykelly Community and Youth Association said: “I just don’t understand why anyone would want to burn a building. It’s pure vandalism and whoever was behind it had nothing better to do.”
SDLP Colr. Orla Beattie said vandals tried to burn the building several weeks ago, and said the site was intended to be used for housing.
“This was much more extensive,” she told the ‘Journal’ on Saturday morning as police were still on scene. “The residents are outraged about this because it has been a magnet for vandals and an eyesore on the village. Residents and business owners want it demolished, but the problem has always been finding out who owns it. It seems to have been forgotten about but, unfortunately, the people of Ballykelly can’t forget about it. I’m not sure what powers Council has, but I will certainly be making enquiries.”
Councillor Beattie added: “We do not know who owns the building and the surrounding land, but I would implore the owner to examine their conscience and to think about the residents and local businesses who have to live with this eyesore on a daily basis. Many residents want the building demolished before somebody is hurt and I agree with them.”
Ballykelly Presbyterian Church is also situated close to the site. Church minister Alan Wilson said: “It would be great if it could be levelled and the site cleared because it has been a blot on the landscape, a real eyesore. I suppose this is just typical vandalism coming into the summer season but, I hope this is not the beginning of a cycle of vandalism.It cannot be left in its present condition and, hopefully, whoever is responsible will make it safe or, better still, demolish it.”
A Council spokesperson said: “In general the Council has powers under The Pollution Control and local Government ( Northern Ireland) Order 1978, Section 66 to deal with ruinous and dilapidated buildings and neglected sites. These powers may require the owner, through the service of a legal notice, to execute works of repair or restoration.”
Police are appealing for anyone with information to call 0845 600 8000, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.