Thursday, 11 September 2014

Muir urges prompt approval of Cultra Railway Station Restoration plans

I am urging the Department for the Environment to approve plans to restore old Cultra Railway Station with the Planning Application now delayed by 15 months due to bureaucratic red tape.

Late in 2012 Cultra Railway Station was given a lifeline when local man David Crowe purchased the building. The disused Railway building had been under the control of Ireland's 'bad bank' NAMA. Sale was made possible after a concerted campaign to Save Cultra Railway Station House involving Councillor Larry Thompson, myself, NI Environment Agency, Holywood Conservation Group, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, local residents, businesses and Dominic Hannigan TD.

Once purchase was completed plans were then submitted to restore and renovate the listed building in May 2013 but over a year later approval has still not been granted. Plans submitted involve much less housing density compared to previously approved plans which squeezed four apartments into the Railway Station building.

After lots of hard work I was thrilled to see the Planning Application submitted in May 2013 but 15 months later I am bitterly disappointed that the Department for the Environment have not yet approved the plans for restoration and renovation. Again and again new barriers emerge which the applicant has to navigate, often at considerable expense.

Last year it was a fear of ground contamination but after an expensive survey and meeting convened by me when Mayor this issue was eventually resolved. Then we had concerns about a wall and now, most recently, requirement to undertake a bat survey. With hundreds of pounds now spent to prove that bats will not be adversely impacted the application is still pending with no approval date on the horizon.

I am profoundly disappointed these issues were not raised shortly after the application was submitted. Instead of the application being promptly processed the applicant has experienced a slow drip feed of queries and delays which is entirely unacceptable.

I have written to the Environment Minister Mark H Durkan MLA and in his reply he details “I have asked my officials to expedite the processing of the application so that a decision can be reached as soon as possible”. This, I hope, means that Planning Service will soon get everything back on track with approval given in the next few weeks. We need to be proceeding full steam ahead without any more delays or risk that the entire application could hit the buffers.

In order to protect and preserve our Built Heritage we need an efficient and effective planning system that encourages and enables owners to easily refurbish and renovate listed buildings. Without such we risk losing some architectural gems in the midst of bureaucratic red tape. I therefore hope that lessons can be learnt from this series of unfortunate events and the application is approved very soon.

Cultra Station House was designed by renowned architect Charles Lanyon, built in circa 1863 and listed in 2007 when threatened with demolition.




Friday, 5 September 2014

Hard work pays off as Kindertransport Farm gets listed status

Kinderfarm / Ballyrolly House / Magills Farm
Picture courtesy of  Second World War in
Northern Ireland website
I am delighted that the Kindertransport Farm in Millisle has secured listed statusw, after leading a long campaign to ensure the historic site was properly protected.
 
Kindertransport Farm played an important part during the Second World War, giving much-needed shelter to Jewish refugee children escaping from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940, who would have otherwise probably perished in Nazi concentration and extermination camps.
 
I am delighted Kindertransport Farm has finally received the recognition it deserves and acquired listed status. Not only has one of Northern Ireland's key historic sites been saved for future generations, but the current owners will now be able to move forward with repairing and restoring the building under the Listed Building Grant-Aid Scheme if they so desire.
 
For the past two years I have been lobbying the Environment Minister to make this happen and as recently as a few months ago I again pressed him for a decision. Preserving this historic site has always been important to me, made greater last year when as Mayor I was able to meet Larry Kitzler, a local man associated with the farm during the Holocaust Memorial event I organised in January 2013 and local Pupil's from Millisle Primary School where Kindertransport Farm children attended back in 1930s and 40s.
 
After two-long years of fighting I was thrilled to receive notification confirming listed status for the property, proving that hard work and determination delivers.
 
Kindertransport Farm is closely linked to the Holocaust and Northern Ireland's own war history, especially the past it played in saving the lives of so many Jewish Children.
 
Anne Frank, arrested 70 years ago on 4 August 1944, once said "I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out." Listing of the farm provides us with an opportunity to learn from the past and build a new shared future where the spirit of Anne Frank and ideals of respect, inclusion and acceptance prevail without discrimination.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Muir welcomes Planning Permission for Kinnegar Sewage Works

I have welcomed recent decision by the Department for the Environment to grant Planning Permission for planned works to eliminate ongoing sewage pollution problem and associated odour in the Kinnegar area, Holywood.

Decision to approve the Planning Application was presented to North Down Borough Council on Tuesday 19 August 2014 and now enables NI Water to proceed with necessary works.

Despite repeated assurances from NI Water planned work at Kinnegar to address the sewage problems has yet to commence. Again and again we have been promised action but to date no work has started. Work was first due to commence in 2012 but two years later nothing has happened. I am therefore glad that the Planning Application has finally been approved after being submitted in May 2013.

With an NI Water official recently informing me that if Planning Permission is given "we will be a position to start work early next month" I look forward to seeing machinery on site to address this long running saga which I have campaigned on since becoming a Councillor in 2010, securing £100,000 to identify the cause in 2010 and then over £3million to rectify.

After raising issue with Janez Poto─Źnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy MLA and NI Water officials everyone is aware of the importance of resolving the Kinnegar sewage pollution problem which Holywood residents have endured for far too long.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Bangor Culture success

I am profoundly grateful to the organisers of Bangor’s Open House Festival. Kieran Gilmore, Alison Gordon and many others associated with Open House have managed to organise a significant series of cultural events throughout the month of August which are creating a real positive atmosphere in a town yearning for change, revitalisation and a new sense of identity.

Last year I asked Council to support my request to establish a Culture Night in Bangor recognising the economic and social benefits derived and the success stories from other towns and cities across the UK and Ireland.

Council thankfully agreed to support my motion and with the commitment, passion and vision of Kieran, Alison, Council officers and others we now have an entire Culture Day planned on Saturday 23 August 2014. I hope many people will engage and enjoy the event which will feature live bands, street-art Busking, Open air tea dance, Open air stage, Record fair, Speciality street market, Craft bazaar and Creative Emporium, Campervan Jam and Street entertainment. Anyone wishing to get involved should email arts@northdown.gov.uk Full information on events taking place at http://www.openhousefestival.com/bangor-2014/bangor-culture-day.html 

With examples across Europe and beyond proving that open, diverse, accepting and culturally rich towns and cities thrive rather than merely survive it is my hope and passionate desire that the Open House Festival and Culture Day provide us with the springboard to revitalise Bangor and build a new prosperous town more and more people are proud to call home.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Muir congratulates McIlroy on another tremendous victory

I have congratulated local golfer Rory McIlroy on his victory in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio. Rory will return to the top of the golfing world ranking.

I would like to congratulate Rory on yet another tremendous and hard fought victory. Rory is undoubtedly the best golfer in the world at the moment following this trophy and his Open Championship win, and his return to the top of the world ranking surely proves this to be true.

Everybody in Holywood and Northern Ireland is immensely proud of what Rory has achieved at such a young age. He is an outstanding ambassador for Northern Ireland and his continued success, along with that of Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, is a major boost to brand NI.

I am sure that we will see more success from Rory and I would like to wish him all the best for the future.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Muir welcomes Redburn Country Park upgrades and events

Cllr Muir beside Redburn 5k Trail signage
I have welcomed range of events organised by NI Environment Agency for Love Parks Week which runs from 25 July to 3 August 2014 including Trails Day at Redburn Country Park, Holywood on Tuesday 29 July 2014 from 11am to 4pm which will showcase the new 5k Trail I secured after lobbying the Environment Minister.

After successfully lobbying the Environment Minister in 2013 to secure a 5k trail and £10,000 investment in Redburn Country Park I am delighted to see the new 5k Redburn Trail now being showcased this week. As a keen amateur athlete I am very aware of the lack of trails with steep inclines across Northern Ireland but know that when provided at, for example, Glenariff Forest Park, they are popular and useful places for training in preparation for the many road races across Northern Ireland.

Whilst the top loop track remains to be installed once wildlife situation permits in September all the signage is now in place and the route ready for use. I encourage people to have a try and consider the many other events also organised such as Crawfordsburn Country Park 5k on Wednesday 30 July 2014 evening at 7pm, On Yer Bike event also in Crawfordsburn Country Park on Thursday 31 July 10am to 4pm and the Kite Festival at Crawfordsburn Country Park on Saturday 2 August from 10.30am to 4pm.