By Evan Short

A building firm employed by Belfast City Council to upgrade a New Lodge play park pulled its employees from the site last week after an extortion bid on workers.

On their first day on the Victoria Parade site last Thursday (9 January), two men approached the contractors and demanded protection payments. The builders immediately left the site and haven’t returmed since.

Sinn Féin councillor JJ Magee and community worker Kate Clarke are among those to slam the extortion bid. The contractors had been upgrading one of the few New Lodge play facilities, which lies in the shadow of Cuchulainn House. The work that had begun on the park featured in last week’s North Belfast News and was welcomed by the whole community.

JJ Magee slammed those behind the demands, accusing them of preventing the construction of badly needed leisure facilities.

“The builders are in discussion with Belfast City Council at the minute so I don’t know when they will be back.

“It is absolutely disgraceful that criminals within our area are doing this. The community don’t want this and the only thing they have achieved is to hold up the construction of a play park that the kids of the area badly need.”

A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council confirmed that work had ceased on the site and said discussions were ongoing with the contractor over the matter.

Kate Clarke from New Lodge Safer Streets said she had been in discussions with the contractors and

the City Council and the matter was now with the PSNI.

“We met with the contractor and with Belfast City Council and the police are now dealing with it.

“It’s absolutely disgraceful. We fight tooth and nail to get amenities into our areas. If you look at North Queen Street park for instance, we have been fighting for maybe eight or nine years to get a 3G pitch in there and when things like this happen it puts people off from investing money.

“We met those contractors last Monday (January 6) just to go over the plans about the playpark and everything was great. They went onsite on Thursday (January 9) but then they left that day. It’s absolutely disgraceful that this has happened.

“This is an area of huge need and the people behind this are keeping facilities from the community.”

A PSNI spokesman confirmed they were investigating an incident in the area.

“Police can confirm that we have received a report of an incident in the Victoria Parade area of North Belfast on Thursday 9 January.

“Police are currently working closely with the local community to establish the circumstances surrounding the incident. Anyone with any information is asked to contact Neighbourhood Policing Team on 0845 600 8000.”

NBN contacted the contractor in question, but no response had been received at time of going to press.

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