Monday, 18 March 2019

Muir welcomes Council moves to address impact of new Road Closure legislation

I have welcomed the decision reached at the Council’s Environment Committee on 6 March 2019 to set aside funds to help local community and voluntary groups to overcome the effects of new and much criticised Road Closure legislation. The decision is subject to ratification by full Council.

Pushed through just as the Northern Ireland Assembly was collapsing, the new Special Events on Roads legislation is continuing to have a detrimental impact upon community and voluntary groups bringing ridiculous levels of bureaucracy and significant fees just as we are trying to encourage active lifestyles and community participation.

With Groomsport 10K / Half Marathon now cancelled, Ards Half Marathon not held in 2018 and Holywood May Day Festivities previously endangered as a result of this legislation I am keen to find a much more satisfactory situation whilst recognising limited Council powers in the absence of the NI Executive to repeal this bad law. I therefore tabled a Motion in June last year on the issue and am delighted to see Council officers now present a number of proposals which will help mitigate impact of the legislation.

A much improved situation is now on the horizon with the £100 cost of advertising events proposed by community/voluntary groups now to be waived and funds set aside from the Recycling Community Investment Fund to cover some of the costs incurred. I would like to thank Council officers for the work undertaken and will keep the issue under review whilst we wait for devolved government to be re-established to get rid of this unreasonable law.

Motion proposed by Councillor Muir in June 2018 and agreed by Ards and North Down Borough Council: “That this Council requests that officers bring back a report on how the new legislation and arrangements concerning Special Events on Roads – road (Miscellaneous Provision) Act (NI) 2010 has been operating one year after enactment ton 4 September 2017 including costs charged compared to other Councils and with a specific focus concerning impact upon charitable / not for profit organisations and sporting events.”

Previous statements concerning issue:

Muir reports Kinnegar malodours to NI Environment Agency

Councillor Muir at Kinnegar Lagoons
I have referred the on-going malodours in the vicinity of the Kinnegar area to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency requesting assistance in eliminating  the regular foul smells, for good.

A number of years previously NI Water made a multi-million pound investment in Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment Plant after a long running campaign led by myself to stop pollution of Kinnegar Lagoons and associated malodours arising.

I have visited the site with NI Water officials and from initial investigations cause of previous malodours has been substantially addressed. During visit to the site we did however also inspect Tillysburn Stream and malodours were evident. Tillysburn Stream is a stretch of water running from Tillsburn Roundabout to back of IKEA, Holywood Exchange and B&Q.

Photo taken on Thursday 17 January 2019 during
Councillor Andrew Muir’s NI Water site
As a result of this visit of Tillysburn Stream I made contact with Belfast Harbour Commissioners, who we understand own the area in question. In conversation with an official from Belfast Harbour I was informed that annual clean-up of the stream had occurred in October 2018 before the anticipated storms in order to prevent flooding, clearing out debris to ensure culvert which links the stream with Belfast Lough was cleared. This has apparently occurred since 2010 with shell and sediment removed as part of the works ensuring the water was free flowing.

With these works occurring from 2010 the root cause of the problem has still not been established hence I have now referred the issue to the NI Environment Agency seeking assistance in addressing this issue. Local people have suffered from the problem for far too long and I will not rest until it’s resolved

Before and after photos from NI Water of Kinnegar Lagoons

Before and after photos from NI Water of Kinnegar Lagoons

Friday, 11 January 2019

Alliance extremely disappointed Department sees no benefit in discussing Residents Parking Schemes for other areas

Alliance Councillor Karen Douglas, Alliance Alderman Alan McDowell and I are extremely disappointed after the Department for Infrastructure confirmed it saw "no benefit" in extending a Residents Parking Schemes to other areas and have refused request to make a deputation to Council.

Councillor Karen Douglas, Alderman Alan McDowell and I have both campaigned for the scheme to be extended to problem areas across the Borough – including Holywood and Bangor Town Centres, after a successful piloting of the scheme in South Belfast.

Effectiveness of these schemes is now clear following the pilot South Belfast enabling residents in local areas to more easily access their property and undertake important tasks without the worry they may never get parked close to home. I am therefore extremely disappointed that the residents of North Down are still being denied the opportunity to get some respite years after the Department initially promised roll out of Residents Parking Schemes across Northern Ireland.

Not only am I disappointed the move has been ruled out, but I'm both shocked and saddened that the Department is not even prepared to discuss the issue in any further detail despite the democratically expressed will of Ards and North Down Borough Council in requesting that Department for Infrastructure make a deputation to Council about the issue.

Ards and North Down Borough Council have therefore written to the Department for Infrastructure urging them to re-think their decision to refuse the invitation attend one of our Committee meetings.

Councillor Karen Douglas stated: "It has taken a long time to receive the answer to our campaign, with Alliance first proposing these schemes be introduced locally in May 2018. What the Department seems to forget is how people's everyday lives are impacted, which, if implemented, would have been an important step in making lives easier, allowing residents to park near their homes, without having to search for a space and having to carry groceries and other items a further distance.

"If the Department had taken the time to investigate this further, it would have recognised the need and want is there.  In 2012 Alliance conducted a survey on the issue, with 97 percent of respondents wanting to see a scheme in place.  Within that 86 percent want it in operation all week, with 58 per cent wanting to see it enforced 24 hours a day and the remaining opinion split between 8am-6pm and 8am-10pm.  You can sure these numbers will only have gone up with more and more vehicles on the road.

"Rest assured Alliance will continue to push for this scheme to become a reality at the earliest opportunity."

In May 2018 Ards and North Down Borough Council unanimously agreed motion proposed by me “that this Council agrees to write to the Department for Infrastructure requesting they make a deputation to Council concerning Residents’ Parking Schemes, lessons learnt to date and future plans for roll out.”

In January 2019 Ards and North Down Borough Council unanimously agreed on the proposal of Councillor Muir, seconded by Alderman Carson, that "the Council writes back to the Department expressing its disappointment and asks it to reconsider the Council’s invitation"

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Muir encourages public to report Kinnegar odour concerns

Councillor Muir at Kinnegar Lagoons
I am encouraging members of the public to report any malodours experienced near the Kinnegar Lagoons and Waste Water Treatment Plant in Holywood after recent reports of the sewage stink returning.

After securing £4.5million investment to end sewage pollution of the Kinnegar lagoons and resulting malodour I was concerned to learn in recent weeks of reports that the pong was back.

With the multi-million pound works to improve Holywood’s sewerage infrastructure and eliminate the notoriously pungent smell completed at the end of 2016 such malodours should be a distant memory not a reoccurring concern.

Upon learning of these report I therefore immediately contacted Northern Ireland Water outlining my concerns and asking for an investigation. This investigation is now complete and whilst all the evidence gathered indicate no malodour exceedances NI Water are keen to hear more if the problems re-occur. Members of the public can report incidents by ringing either myself via 07813 945411 or NI Water directly via 03457 44 00 88 with as much information as possible such as times, dates, locations and description.

With such a significant investment previously secured I am keen to ensure the Kinnegar sewage smell is eliminated once and for all and therefore urge anyone with concerns to make contact so we can identify any new problems for immediate rectification.

Response from NI Water in relation to recent reports appended below:

Thank you for your email, and apologies for not replying sooner.  The Kinnegar Wastewater Treatment Works’ (WwTW) November emissions results were needed to provide a meaningful response and they have only just become available.

NI Water have been made aware, from local press articles, of reports of unpleasant odours during November in the vicinity of Kinnegar WwTW at the shorefront.  We have checked our customer contacts records, which confirm NI Water did not receive any odour complaints directly.

We would like to reassure you that we have carried out checks on the sewerage system at the new pumping station, and the adjacent Lagoons, and found no issues.  Watercourses in the wider area were also inspected and, again, no issues were found.

Also, the Kinnegar WwTW emissions results recorded no exceedances during November.  Please note that monitoring a this site only provides assurances in relation to hydrogen sulphide emissions.  Other unpleasant smelling substances, which can be produced as a by-product of wastewater treatment processes and, indeed, other natural processes in the wider environment, are not monitored under the established regime.

We are very mindful of the historical issues in the area and would encourage members of the public to report odours, via Waterline (03457 44 00 88), if possible with times, dates, locations and description, so that they can be investigated immediately.

NI Water will continue to monitor all possible odour sources in the local sewerage system and around the Kinnegar WwTW and the Lagoons.  Background odours in close proximity to any wastewater treatment works would not be entirely unexpected and can, on occasions, be more noticeable depending on prevailing weather conditions and operations being undertaken on site.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Muir welcomes Council decision to back LGBT Awareness Week

I welcome Ards and North Down Council's decision to back a request from the Rainbow Project to light up Ards Town Hall for LGBT Awareness Week.

A similar Alliance proposal had previously been defeated, but this time around the vote narrowly passed by 19 votes to 18.

I am glad that Ards & North Down Borough Council agreed on 19 December 2018 with the Rainbow Project request to light up Ards Town Hall in Rainbow colours for LGBT Awareness Week on 13 May 2019. I would like to thank all those who voted in favour of this positive move including my Alliance Party colleagues alongside Ulster Unionist, Green, Independent and the two DUP Councillors who broke ranks.

I am however very disappointed that proposal was only passed by one vote after a failed DUP amendment to instead use the colour pink as a 'compromise'. I personally found this to be an offensive suggestion and believe it shows a real lack of understanding of the LGBT community. Indeed one argument citied for the DUP amendment was that colour pink was used during the Holocaust.

This, I would argue demonstrates, that perhaps some in the DUP have a long journey to travel in relation to LGBT Awareness. I would therefore hope all members of the Council engage in events around LGBT Awareness Week as we seek to build a better understanding of the issues faced by all citizens in our Borough irrespective of sexual orientation or gender.

Monday, 10 December 2018

We must address carbon footprint before it’s too late

Ards and North Down is set to assess how it can become a Carbon Neutral Council I raised the issue at Council.

Recognising the importance of the issue, I have helped ensure the local authority will step up in the battle against climate change, aiming to create a low carbon future with officers set to start work on possible timescales for achieving carbon neutrality with unanimous decision of the Committee ratified by full Council at the end of November.

I'm pleased my Council colleagues have recognised the importance of this issue and backed me in my plans to see Ards and North Down lead the way when it comes to the fight against climate change.

Global action on Climate Change is now widespread focused both on reducing emissions and adapting how our environments, societies and assets are managed in response to the impacts of Climate Change.

In terms of reducing emissions, the International Community has already agreed to reduce global warming by two degrees Celsius requiring significant deep and challenging levels of decarbonisation.

As a Council we have a duty to play our part in these efforts striving towards carbon neutrality and are, I believe, up to the challenge as already proven in relation to, for example, our recycling efforts.

In joining me in this campaign my Council colleagues have sent a strong message that we all have a duty to create a sustainable future for the next generation.