Saturday, 28 February 2015

Muir delivers greater transparency for planning decisions

I have managed to deliver changes in how planning applications will be dealt with by our new Council when powers are transferred from Department for the Environment to Ards and North Down Borough Council on 1 April 2015.

With planning powers transferring to local Councils on 1 April 2015 it’s vital that appropriate procedures are put in place to ensure planning decisions are made in an open, transparent and accountable manner. I am therefore delighted that the new Council unanimously agreed that it is no longer acceptable to have Councillors simply raising their arm and no voting records retained detailing who voted for or against planning applications. Only if you attend the meeting do you see how Councillors have voted by raising their arm.

If a vote is taken on a Planning Application names of Councillors voting for, against and abstaining will now automatically be recorded in the minutes without exception. Minutes of the meeting will record voting record of Councillors on each issue for public review and scrutiny by members of the public. Without the change secured a recorded vote detailing how each Councillor voted would have only occurred if a Councillor requested such before members were given the opportunity to raise their hands for or against. This inevitably requires Councillors to predict if a division vote will occur. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Health Minister should end Bangor Hospital bed closure shambles - Muir

Whilst I welcome decision made late last year to retain the Minor Injuries Unit at Bangor Community Hospital the decision to proceed with closure of the 20 bed GP unit was short sighted and ill thought out. 

Fear that decision to retain the Minor Injuries Unit would overshadow closure of the 20 bed unit was thankfully tackled by Bangor resident Eleanor Wilson who has successfully challenged the decision in court. We are now left in the current shambles with unit closed, declaration this was unlawful due to lack of consultation but closure to remain whilst an ambiguous consultation is conducted to decide whether doors remain permanently closed.

It’s about time Minister for Health Jim Wells MLA got a grip of this situation, showed his commitment to Transforming your Care and stepped in to secure Bangor Hospital’s future including the 20 bed unit which is of equal value alongside the Minor Injuries Unit. Care in a local surrounding is much more important and value for money than increasing pressure on the already strained Ulster Hospital.

DUP again block transparency on political donations

Yet again the DUP have voted against transparency on political donations by voting against a motion I presented at North and Ards District Shadow Council Governance Committee last Thursday night which called on the Secretary of State to end the anonymity for individuals making large donations to political parties. DUP Councillors present did not speak to explain their position and sat in silence whilst debate and vote occured. The motion will now go the full shadow Council early next month.

Donations over £7,500 from a single source to a political party are made public in the rest of the UK; however in Northern Ireland this information is not currently published. Naomi Long secured an amendment at Westminster in 2013 that will mean that at some point in the future, any such donation made since January 2014 will be published, but the Secretary of State has not indicated when this will happen.

I was very disappointed that DUP Councillors voted against this motion with complete, absolute and total silence on reasons why. If we are to improve the levels of trust and confidence in the political system then we need to let the public know who is funding our political parties. If we do not lift the veil of secrecy, then suspicion and mistrust will only fester among the public.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

On your marks for Craic 10k

Craic 10k is a new running event due to take place on St Patrick’s Day 2015 in Belfast City Centre.  The new event promises to be a great urban course taking runners around Belfast City, starting at Belfast City Hall and ending in Titanic Quarter after passing through East Belfast, the Gaeltacht and the Cathedral Quarter. 

Michael Fox of Fitzers Catering (sponsors of the last KM)
along with Cllr Andrew Muir, event organiser 
Orlaith Adams and East Belfast Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle
With the first 1000 entrants receiving a commemorative Craic 10k T-shirt and a ‘goodie’ bag from O’Neills, and all runners getting a medal, bottle of water, banana and voucher for a pint of non-alcoholic beer at the finish it looks certain to be an excellent event. Early Bird Entry fee is £15, increasing to £25 after 2 March 2015 so it’s time to get on your marks, register and run at www.aisling-events.com 

Muir welcomes approval for St Columbanus’ College growth

I welcome the decision by the Education Minister to increase the capacity at St Columbanus' College, Bangor. Enrolment will increase from 500 to 750 pupils in a phased manner between now and 2025.

St Columbanus' College is a very popular over subscribed local school. The local community will be very pleased to hear that the Education Minister has granted approval for its expansion. This development plan will enable its growth and should pave the way for its much needed and long awaited new build.

As a super mixed school of different religious denominations, I am delighted that we will see more pupils being educated in such a mixed environment.

As a former pupil, I am confident that this decision will lead to more pupils receiving a first class education at one of Northern Ireland's best schools. I would like to pass on my congratulations to the Staff and Board of Governors for the work to date which has delivered this achievement and look forward to supporting the school over months and years ahead.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Muir appeals for information on Lisa Dorrian disappearance

Disappearance of Lisa Dorrian ten years ago this month sent shockwaves throughout North Down and beyond, leaving a family distraught, without any understanding of what happened and local community fearful. Ten years on I would urge anyone with even the slightest amount of information to contact the Police or Crimestoppers. Even if felt to be insignificant it could be key to resolving this crime and ending the awful situation which Lisa’s family continue to endure.