Friday, 19 December 2014

Alliance continues Council campaign for openness and accountability

I am extremely disappointed that our new Council has yet again voted against increased openness and accountability after previously rejecting another Alliance proposal to widen Audio Recording of business to include Committee meetings. Council is already obliged to audio record full Council meetings as a result of an Alliance Amendment to the Local Government Act 2014.

This time, despite receiving a report from the Area Planning Manager recommending adoption of a Planning Protocol including electronic voting (which was outlined as the preferred option) Unionists on the new North Down and Ards Super Council have refused to even ascertain costs associated with an electronic voting system. The Planning Officers report detailed ‘Committee minutes should also record detailed voting, including which members voted for and against, those that abstained, and those members who elected to speak rather than vote.’

With new Planning powers being devolved to the Council from 1 April 2015 we must urgently ensure we have appropriate procedures in place to ensure planning decisions are made in an open, transparent and accountable manner. No longer can it be considered acceptable to have anonymous voting with Councillors raising their arm and no voting records retained on how individual Councillors voted on every application. The resolute resistance to change from some quarters is disappointing but not surprising.

As someone firmly committed to a new era of Local Government focused upon openness and accountability I am not deterred by this set back and intend to submit another proposal that to ensure all planning decisions are manually recorded votes with voting record of every Councillor on every Planning Application, Local Area Plan, Policy or Procedure recorded and retained for public review and scrutiny.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

£4.5m project underway to tackle Kinnegar Lagoons environmental disaster

Cllr Muir with NI Water representatives
I welcome progress achieved by NI Water in dealing with the sewage pollution problem in Kinnegar area, Holywood. A £4.5million scheme recently commenced which will involve laying and tunnelling new sewers in the vicinity of the A2 Belfast / Bangor Road and Railway Line plus diversion of wastewater overflow discharges to new wastewater pumping station adjacent to the Kinnegar Wastewater Treatment Works, which will improve the overall sewerage infrastructure in the area, reducing the likelihood of odours.

After personally campaigning for over four years which has involved raising the matter with the European Commissioner for the Environment, meeting the Regional Development Minister, numerous Assembly questions and a formal complaint to the Environment Agency I am delighted to see funding awarded and construction work occurring in the area. The recent local public engagement event held by NI Water proved useful with more information on future plans outlined. With the overwhelming majority of work due to take place during 2015 all works should be complete by early 2016. NI Water will then focus on possible remedial work to address the serious pollution which has occurred within the Kinnegar Lagoons.

Whilst local people have endured the pollution and associated odours for far too long I am glad to see work commencing to address the environmental disaster which has occurred in the Kinnegar Lagoons. Recent reports indicate that interim work to stop tidal flows is allowing the lagoons to slowly return to their natural state. I look forward to seeing NI Water deliver further progress throughout 2015 as we strive to deliver a clean, green and healthy Holywood.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Muir welcomes North Down Coastal Path changes

After years of campaigning to reform our local by-laws which involved numerous representations to Council and successive Environment Ministers I welcome North Down Borough Council’s measured decision to ensure North Down Coastal Path is a shared route, facilitating a range of users in a responsible manner.

With a Code of Conduct, signage and only appropriate wider and upgraded sections designated for cycling a balanced approach has been found. Based upon respect, courtesy and enforcement of the rules the Coastal Path can remain a jewel in North Down’s crown. I support decision to allow leisurely cycling on the wider sections but a requirement for cyclists to dismount whilst using the more rugged and narrow sections and stipulation that cycling must not be at speed but instead at a leisurely pace. Health and Safety of all users must be paramount and whilst facilitating active lifestyles is vitally important use of bicycle bells and ban on use of motorised scooters or horses on the path is sensible and proportionate.

As someone who loves to run, cycle and walk it remains my aspiration to see the entire North Down Coastal Path upgraded from Groomsport to Belfast providing an amazing Greenway which has potential to boost tourism, improve health of many and provide a sustainable transport alternative between both locations.  Whilst this may involve constructing alternative routes to bypass the more narrow and ecologically rich areas the report provided by Council officers is comprehensive and useful as the new Council plans ahead in terms of investment opportunities. After bringing a previous proposal to obtain such a report I look forward to the new Council using it as a template to explore future improvements to improve North Down’s much loved Coastal Path.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Muir to take progressive politics into Westminster fight

As Mayor of North Down 2013/14 with, from left
Dr Stephen Farry MLA Alliance Minister for Employment
and Learning, Naomi Long MP Alliance Party Deputy Leader and
David Ford MLA, AllianceParty Leader and Justice Minister
I will contest the North Down Westminster seat for the Alliance Party next year, after being officially selected at a special meeting this month.

I will fight to gain the seat currently held by Independent Unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon as a Alliance Party Chair, local Councillor and former North Down Mayor offering a clear alternative to orange and green politics with the vision of a progressive, inclusive, prosperous future.

I am honoured to have been selected to take the Alliance Party’s unique message of a shared future to constituents across North Down.

During my year as Mayor I worked under the theme ‘Working as One’ and was delighted to meet and embrace many different groups and people from across the constituency. This won’t change as I hit the campaign trail ahead of next year’s general election, with my vision of a shared, integrated and inclusive society For Everyone to keep North Down moving forward.

The Alliance Party consistently puts building good community relations first and every decision taken – from our two Ministers through to our Councillors and activists – is put through the shared future test clearly demonstrating we are the party of leadership who do not shy away from difficult decisions, rather than a party of protest or party reliant on tribal prejudicial politics to garner votes.

I am proud to have made history as a Mayor who actively provided leadership For Everyone, especially as the first Mayor to attend a GAA Football match in the Borough and reaching out to many different groups – from welcoming the Orange Order to the Town Hall or actively embracing our rich Christian Heritage in advance of 1,400 Anniversary of St Columbanus death in 2015.

As a Councillor I have always made engaging with local communities a priority and fought to ensure their views were well represented. Over the past few years I have campaigned and secured over £4million to tackle the odour problem at Kinnegar Sewage in Holywood, saved Cultra Station House, increased cycling provision, founded Bangor park run and secured Council support to establish Bangor's first ever Culture Day.

I look forward to taking the Alliance message of a shared future free of intimidation and fear to the wider community across North Down.

North Down Alliance MLA Stephen Farry added: “I’m delighted to see Andrew selected to represent North Down. His diverse background and dedication to making North Down a shared, inclusive society makes him an ideal candidate to counter the tried and failed tribal politics of the past."

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Crawfordsburn Waterfall Walk abandoned

© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence
During a recent visit to Crawfordsburn Country Park I was concerned to discover that that the picturesque Waterfall Walk remains inaccessible. I often run the marked 5k trail in the park but a few weeks ago decided to take a detour to view the waterfall. I was shocked to be met with barriers blocking access without any prior signage around the park advising users to consider the alternative route.

It's now apparent that the route has been abandoned by the NI Environment Agency since the bad winter in 2010 with no action since taken to re-establish full access. Rather than repairing the route it's been allowed to wash away into the river after further landslides.


I urge NI Environment Agency to erect signage promoting alternative access to the waterfall without any further delay and present some proposals to ensure Crawfordsburn Country Park's wonderful waterfall walk can yet again be opened up. Whilst work progresses to re-open the Gobbins Cliff Path it's disappointing and frustrating that Department for the Environment seems content to abandon another tourist attraction.

News that the Crawfordsburn Waterfall Walk has been abandoned was recently broken after I asked my Alliance colleague Kieran McCarthy MLA to ask a Written Assembly Question to the Environment Minister.

Kieran McCarthy asked "To ask the Minister of the Environment to detail (i) the length of time that the Waterfall Walk at Crawfordsburn Country Park has been inaccessible; and (ii) the timescale for repair." with Mark H Durkan MLA responding "I have been advised by officials in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which manages Crawfordsburn Country Park, that a 60 metre section of pathway leading to the waterfall has been closed to ensure public safety since 12 November 2010, following a landslide.

A timescale for completion of repair works cannot be provided at this time. Civil engineers were unable to assure NIEA that the path could be made safe for public use by a short term fix. A long-term solution to address the slope stability issues is required. Options for this are under consideration. However they are limited because a section of the unstable slope is not owned by my Department and any such works are likely to be costly and will be dependent on budget availability. 
Visitors to the Country Park can still access the waterfall via the path on the opposite bank of Crawford's Burn and enjoy 11 kilometres of paths within the Park."

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Full Steam ahead for Cultra Railway Station Restoration

My Alliance colleague Councillor Larry Thompson and I have welcomed the decision by Planners to approve plans to restore the historic Cultra Railway Station building in Holywood.

Cllr Thompson and I at Cultra Rail Station
Councillor Thompson and I have been leading the campaign to Save Cultra Station along with other interested people and organisations such as Holywood Conservation Group. The campaign was formed in 2011 when the listed building fell into a perilous state and was put on the market by Ireland’s bad bank NAMA.

Commenting on the development, Councillor Thompson stated “After a long campaign I am delighted to see restoration of this amazing building on the right track. Cultra Station House was designed in the style of Charles Lanyon, built in circa 1863 and was listed in 2007 when threated with demolition. This unique building has long been on the Built Heritage at Risk Register but will hopefully soon be restored and rejuvenated as two apartments.  The two storey portion of the property was originally living accommodation for the station master and the single storey portion was the area for waiting, ticket collection and other areas associated with a railway station.”

Cultra Station, Holywood
The planning approval was endorsed by North Down Borough Council on Tuesday 14 October 2014 and whilst I remain very disappointed planning approval took over sixteen months I am thankful to all those who helped us achieve this important milestone and for the patience of the developer. Whether it was Dominic Hannigan TD who helped secure sale by NAMA in late 2012, successive Environment Ministers Alex Attwood and Mark H Durkan or the many interested people and organisations, together we have delivered a success story to be proud of. With planning approval now granted we are finally all on-board and ready to travel forward at full steam towards restoration.