Sunday, 6 May 2018

Muir delighted historic Holywood building set to be saved

Mr Larry Thompson RIBA (Chairperson of
Holywood Conservation Group) and Councillor
Andrew Muir (Alliance, Holywood & Clandeboye)
with 1 Stewart’s Place, Holywood in the background
I am delighted the historic building is now set to be saved, after months of constant lobbying secured the future of a building seen by many as “a real jewel in Holywood’s built heritage”.

Over the past few years we’ve witnessed the partial collapse of the building, leading to closure of the road for a substantial period of time – as concerns raged over who would take the building on and what the final decision would be around its future.

Stewart’s Place is part of our local heritage dating back to about 1840, named after the first post-master of Holywood, Hugh Stewart. Number 1 and 3 Stewart’s Place are part of a pair and were both listed in the 1970s with Number 3 restored as a Residential Building in 1993. 

While it couldn’t continue in its current state, with the disruption that came with this actually hindering life in Holywood, it is welcome to hear planning permission has finally been granted to Lacuna Developments to enable the full restoration of the once much loved site. Many thanks  to Lacuna Developments for preserving and overcoming some of the unnecessary hurdles placed by statutory agencies in order to get the green light to proceed.

I’m delighted to have been one of the voices championing this local cause alongside Holywood Conservation Group and look forward to watching Stewart’s Place returned to its former glory when work gets underway later this year.

Also commenting on the issue, Mr Larry Thompson RIBA, Chair of the Holywood Conservation Group stated that “the committee and members of Holywood Conservation Group are delighted and pleased that this listed building has received Planning Approval for refurbishment and conversion to apartments, and that work on site has, at long last, commenced. Holywood Conservation Group campaigned hard over the past ten years to prevent the building from being demolished, including placard demonstration and the fitting of look-a-like false windows to give the building some visual appeal over the many years it lay vacant.”

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Progress on Coastal Path upgrade campaign

I am keeping up the pressure to complete much needed upgrades of the North Down Coastal Path in order to make the path safe and accessible to all. The path runs from Bangor to Kinnegar in Holywood and has been upgraded in sections over the last number of years but travel between Seahill and Cultra remains challenging in places with very narrow paths and steep drops to the rocks and shoreline.

After raising the issue at the Council’s monthly Community & Wellbeing Committee meeting I was delighted to receive a detailed update from Council officers outlining exciting plans for a Kinnegar to Donaghadee Greenway via the North Down Coastal Path. 

Example section requiring upgrade
Plans are currently being finalised with public consultation on the developed design scheduled to occur from late April with a public information event and opportunity to submit views over a 12 week period. Views will then be collated and proposed design then presented to Council for approval. An update report is also due to be received by Council in April 2018 detailing progress concerning Council’s wider Greenway strategy which hopes to connect up many parts of the Borough via traffic free routes.

Whilst any upgrade of the North Down Coastal Path must respect and protect the local environment, as has been proven in other sections, innovative ways exist to upgrade the path whilst ensuring the tranquil nature is preserved. Whether it’s improved physical and mental health, enabling more sustainable transport or increased trade for local businesses upgrade of the North Down Coastal Path has enormous positive potential as part of wider Kinnegar to Donaghadee Greenway. The Comber Greenway and others across the British Isles are great examples of what’s possible.

As a keen runner I regularly use the North Down Coastal path and was involved in securing upgrade of previous sections such as the new Boardwalk which replaced the steep steps at Seahill and obtaining 24/7 access between the Kinnegar and Airport Road sectors linking Holywood and Belfast. With the route now upgraded the entire way from Seahill to Bangor many people can be found enjoying the path especially with the arrival of brighter nights. Whether it’s walkers, runners, those exercising their dogs or, cyclists (where permissible and safe to do so at a leisurely pace) success of this shared path is something to celebrate.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Alliance puts wheels in motion for Bicycle Repair Stations across the Borough

Ards and North Down Alliance Councillor Deborah Girvan and I have put the wheels in motion towards a more Bicycle friendly Borough after securing unanimous support of a Council Committee to consider roll out of Bicycle Repair Stations at key locations across the Borough.

CS Lewis Square Bicycle Repair Station

CS Lewis Square Bicycle Repair Station
A Bicycle Repair Station was recently introduced at CS Lewis Square in East Belfast (see above). Free and publically accessible the bike repair facility comprises a bicycle pump unit and a unit containing a range of eight retractable tools to provide cyclists with a free facility to make adjustments and repairs on the spot. 

Proposal from Deborah and I that officers bring back a report on possible installation of similar stations at key locations in the Ards and North Down Borough was agreed at Community and Wellbeing Committee Wednesday 14 March 2018. Decision now awaits formal ratification by full Council on Wednesday 28 March 2018.

After seeing the Bicycle Repair Station at CS Lewis Square I immediately took a few photos and contacted relevant bodies to establish the background.  Priced at approximately £2,600, the Bicycle Repair Station was introduced as part of the Connswater Greenway and CS Lewis Square works and received 60% grant funding. Managed on a day to day basis by Belfast City Council it has proven a very popular facility helping to facilitate more sustainable and healthy travel by bicycle

CS Lewis Square Bicycle Repair Station
With cycling on the increase and current routes across the Borough such as the Ards Peninsula and the Comber Greenway enjoying great levels of patronage I am delighted to receive support for this proposal. Every single step we take to encourage cycling and improve safety moves us up a gear towards a more Bicycle friendly Borough.

Alderman Deborah Girvan stated “Cycling is a very popular sport. Over the past few years I have noticed a substantial increase in the number of people, including cycling clubs, using our roads to explore the Borough. Bicycle Repair Stations would be a welcome facility to assist cyclists if they get a puncture or need to make minor repairs during their journey.

Motion passed “That this Council asks that officers bring back a report on possible installation of free and publicly accessible Bicycle Repair Stations at key locations in our Borough following introduction of similar at CS Lewis Square, Belfast comprising of a bicycle pump unit and a unit containing a range of retractable tools to provide cyclists with a free facility to make adjustments and repairs on the spot.”

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Council backs proposals to grasp potential of Kinnegar Army Base

Significant Kinnegar Logistics Base site
Courtesty of Google Maps
I have called for plans to be put in place to realise the full potential of Kinnegar Logistics Base following its planned closure in 2022.

I made the proposal at Ards and North Down Borough Council’s Regeneration and Development Committee, where my plans for creating a mixed use Masterplan for the site received unanimous backing. The decision is subject to formal ratification by full Council. The Ministry of Defence announced their plans to dispose of 54 acre Kinnegar Logistics in 2022 in late 2016 with all Military Units at the site to be re-provided for.

Previously a busy base employing up to 1,000 civilian staff at the height of the troubles the situation has clearly evolved now that we live in relative peace. The service previously given by many at the base is to be commended with the commitment given by the previous Defence Secretary that no job losses will occur also welcomed, with all re-deployed to Palace Barracks.

As we have seen at other sites across Northern Ireland. far too often assets close down, people move on and all that is left is a site turning into nothing more than an eyesore whilst public bodies dither and debate it’s future.  Kinnegar Logistics Base has been part of the Holywood landscape for years and must be utilised to create jobs, deliver homes and act keep Holywood on the map as somewhere to live and do business.

Rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen we must take action now as this site has the potential to become a valuable asset for generations to come. In order for this to happen planning must commence now, in close consultation with local residents, businesses and other key stakeholders.

A fantastic opportunity for job creation if done right, we can’t let this site become like other vacated bases, with development slow and potential development not brought to fruition. Development of plans for this site are also very apt with work now underway to construction the £1billion Belfast City Region Growth Deal.

I’m delighted other Councillors backed my proposal and recommendation Council seeks funding for future development as part of the Belfast City Region Growth Deal. This will now allow us to move forward, hear a wide range of views and hopefully develop costed options for regeneration, including transport, public realm and other supporting infrastructure.  Together we can turn around a sad story of closure to one of success benefiting local people and the economy alike.

Motion tabled by myself and passed at Regeneration and Development Committee on Thursday 8 February 2018 “This Council notes the substantial opportunities available in light of the planned closure of Kinnegar Logistics Base and agrees that serious consideration should be given to seeking funding for future development as part of the Growth Deal for Belfast City Region, due by September 2018. Furthermore, Council requests officers promptly bring back a report highlighting the process for developing a mixed use Masterplan for the site, which will involve close engagement with local residents, businesses and other key stakeholders, and will produce costed options for regeneration, including transport, public realm and other supporting infrastructure.”

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

New Post Box for Cultra signed, sealed and delivered

Cllr Muir at new Post Box at
Seafront Road, Cultra
I am delighted to have signed, sealed and delivered a Post Box for Cultra after leading a long and determined campaign to ensure local residents once again got a First Class service from Royal Mail following decommissioning of the previous Victorian Box which had its aperture closed just before Easter last year.

I am delighted to have been able to deliver this replacement Post Box despite the delays when I started to worry that the replacement Post Box was ‘lost in the post’. As a result of sustained lobbying and follow up on almost a weekly basis the replacement Post Box finally received the stamp of approval in late 2017 with installation then occurring early in the New Year at Seafront Road, Cultra opposite Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club.

Whilst frustrated at the ridiculous delays encountered and fact that the people of Cultra were left to endure no Post Box and associated Second Class service for such a long period of time I am proud to have been instrumental in ensuring this box was signed, sealed and delivered. The scenic location chosen for the replacement Post Box arguably means this has been a ‘Special Delivery’ with the old Victorian Post Box also remaining but painted black in line with protocol agreed with Heritage England. Whilst collections have already commenced from the new Post Box I have asked for details of the precise collection times to be displayed without delay.

Post Box at Seafront Road, Cultra
Although delighted to have achieved this delivery I have still not given up on installation of a replacement Post Box at Station Road, Craigavad which was unfairly removed and returned to sender in 2016. I am currently working with local residents to explore different avenues to get Royal Mail to change their mind and deliver a new Post Box so that the people of Craigavad also receive the First Class service they deserve.

Old Victorian Post Box

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Happy New Year for Cairn Wood

Following extensive consultation with users and other stakeholders Council has agreed in principle and subject to funding plus land transfer to Forest Service the Council will, via a Memorandum of Understanding, ensure that Cairn Wood continues to be available for the public to enjoy with plans being pursued to carry out further development of the facility working with the ‘Friends of Cairn Wood’ group and others to enhance the visitors experience.

Works undertaken will be done in close consultation with users and stakeholders respecting the sensitive nature of the site and are subject to funding plus receipt of relevant approvals. Improvements being considered include expansion of the Car Park on its existing site, improvement of signage, development of the path to Clandeboye Way plus the Cairngaver lookout, development of a wildlife meadow and a possible mountain bike trail and pump track in the separate cleared area.

Further details and consultation to follow when funding, approvals and handover plans enable matters to be progressed. I would like to commend everyone involved in the campaign to Save Cairn Wood for their determination and commitment to save this wonderful natural asset. Achievements to date are a positive testament to everyone involved who have proved that people power delivers.