Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Muir welcomes saving of historic gate lodge

I welcome news an historic gate lodge is to be saved from potential destruction. Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy recently announced in response to an Alliance Assembly question that Craigowen Lodge, located on the main Belfast to Bangor road close to the Seahill Road junction, would be given to Hearth Housing Association with a view to securing its future. 

The lodge had been purchased by Roads Service ahead of a proposed road-widening scheme that never occurred. The listed building suffered an arson attack several years ago, after which it had a tin roof installed for protection. It was designed by Thomas Turner, a pupil of Sir Charles Lanyon. 

Craigowen Lodge is a building steeped in history and heritage, which deserves to be restored and protected as much as possible. Hearth Housing Association informed me in 2011 they wanted to renovate the building, so it is extremely welcome to see that work finally moving ahead. 

Hearth specialises in restoring historic buildings, so the organisation is perfect to bring back Craigowen to its former glories. Our built heritage needs to be secured - they could provide much-needed social housing and used in general so future generations can enjoy them.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Twelfth Celebrations have the potential to succeed, days of inflammatory and prejudicial words and actions must be consigned to the past

Enjoying bottle of pop as a child on 12th July after
watching Band Parade and Demonstration
Over the next week Towns and Cities across Northern Ireland will celebrate the Twelfth, with parties culminating in bonfires, parades and speeches at the Field.

As someone born as a product of a mixed marriage, I am proud to consider part of my identity as British and recall looking forward to watching the bands play and parades pass on the Twelfth of July, whether in North Down or Belfast.

As an adult I have continued to attend events nearly every year and in recent years was  grateful to be invited as a guest of the Orange Order for a meal and historical discussion at The Field in Belfast. As Mayor of North Down in 2013/14 I also valued the opportunity to welcome local Orange Order members to the Town Hall on two occasions and found my visit to The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre at Oldbridge House, Co Meath worthwhile.

In 2010 I was delighted to accept an invite to attend a 12th July Garden Party hosted in Dublin by Irish President Mary McAleese. The event was held to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne and the resulting shared history of Ireland, North and South. It attracted people from all backgrounds, North and South, Unionist and Nationalist, Orange and Green, other and none and set out a positive vision of how we can celebrate our shared past today.

With Dr Martin McAleese, President of Ireland Mary McAleese
and my partner Alan at Twelfth of July Garden Party
Despite recent difficulties and previous incidents, especially at some local bonfire sites, which I condemn without equivocation, it is my strong hope that the Twelfth Celebrations have the potential to succeed as a positive celebration of identity characterised by mutual respect, tolerance, dialogue, understanding and support for the Police as they seek to uphold the Rule of Law. The days of inflammatory and prejudicial words and actions perpetrated by a small minority but projected across the world must be consigned to the past.

The numerous bonfire sites across the borough and the main local demonstration due to occur in Holywood in the days ahead provide a great opportunity to enhance and strengthen North Down as a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone with universal respect for the rule of law. Together, let’s grasp it.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Time for Health Minister to save Bangor Hospital

I am profoundly disappointed that the Health Trust have decided to permanently close the 20 bed GP unit at Bangor Community Hospital despite a strong and vocal grass roots campaign in support of retention.

The figures and facts used to permanently close the unit simply don’t stack up and completely overlook the massive social and health benefits the unit has offered for many years.  

Whilst the Trust have decided to permanently close the unit the final decision now rests with the Health Minister. I would urge the DUP Minister to reflect upon the cross party campaign mounted against closure plus the strong local feelings expressed and reject this ill thought out decision.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Successful Sustrans Piccolo Fondo Pedal Ride from Holywood

Sustrans Giro D'Italia legacy event Piccolo Fondo Pedal Ride took place on Saturday 20 June 2015 involving over seventy cyclists young and old who departed Holywood (Seapark) at 11am to Titanic Quarter, Belfast. Cyclists from Lisburn, Newtownabbey and Comber also converged at Titanic Quarter along with the Holywood Cyclists at approximately 12.30pm.

Cyclists before departure at Seapark, Holywood
The Holywood section was co-ordinated by Sustrans Ranger Jackie Mitchell assisted by Sustrans Deputy Director Steven Patterson plus many volunteers including Sustrans Ranger Andrew Muir, Mary Lappin, James Hunter, Paul Smith, Philip Palin, Tom, Michelle, Martin and others.

After the amazing Giro D’Italia event last year it was fantastic to be able to recreate the Giro feeling again in 2015, wear a little pink and help guide over seventy cyclists at a leisurely pace from Holywood to Titanic Quarter and cross the finish line used by Giro Fondo cyclists the next day. Saturday proven again that cycling can be fun, healthy and a sustainable form of transport which I hope will continue to grow in popularity over the years ahead via the Giro legacy events and local initiatives undertaken by, for example North Down Cycling Club who held another brilliantly successful Coastal Challenge event on Sunday.

Sustrans Volunteer Jackie Mitchel from Holywood said: “Many will remember the great atmosphere of the Giro d’Italia and the buzz about cycling. The Gran Fondo is for non-professional cyclists who want to compete but the Piccolo Fondo is a great chance to join in for a relaxed bike ride into the city. You don’t have to be a lycra-clad racing cyclist but just enjoy being out on your bike. So come explore with us the National Cycle Network (NCN). Tell your family and friends, get into the pink and come along for the ride.”

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Alliance urges action on Paramilitary Flags across Bangor

I condemn the recent appearance of Paramilitary Flags across Bangor and urge statutory bodies to step forward and agree a unified plan to ensure their removal.  I have been contacted numerous times since the flags started appearing with many people appalled to see flags erected for illegal proscribed terrorist organisations.

I, along with many other people across North Down, am appalled to see flags erected for illegal proscribed terrorist organisations. The vast overwhelming majority of people across North Down are law abiding tolerant citizens who respect the Police Service of NI, abhor intimidation and criminality and want us to move forward away from the shadow of all paramilitary organisations, whether Loyalist or Republican. Support for terrorist organisations was never acceptable in the past and must never be tolerated today or in the future.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

FoRM Walled Garden Public Art Exhibition

It's inspirational to see Bangor Castle Walled Garden featuring such a wide range of innovative items designed by local artists. With a rich history Bangor Castle Walled Garden contains many features, plants, Band Stand and cafe which help make North Down a great place to visit or live, enhanced by the current Public Art sculpture exhibition. I greatly enjoyed the guided tour on Saturday and would encourage everyone to pop along and enjoy the exhibition and Walled Garden which is located opposite Bangor Aurora Leisure Centre.