Muir says NI Water must halt sale of Reservoirs

NI Water must halt their plans to sell reservoirs across Northern Ireland, including six in Craigantlet Hills between Bangor and Belfast and one in Groomsport at Portavoe. In light of recent events which have left tens of thousands of homes and businesses without water, NI Water must scrap these sale plans. 
With many homes across Northern Ireland without water due to a widespread shortage, NI Water should take immediate steps to ensure a sufficent supply of water and cancel their plans to sell many reservoirs across Northern Ireland. Residents and businesses in Holywood are being denied water, yet disgraceful plans are still afoot to sell many of the local reservoirs which I understand were recently taken out of use.
I recently learned that over £3m was invested during 2003/04 to bring the Ballysallagh Lower Reservoir to EU drinking water standards. To then potentially sell the reservoir a few years later when Northern Ireland desperately needs water to cook, wash and avail of sanitary facilities is plain stupid. NI Water should save our reservoirs rather than sell them and reduce potential water supplies even further.

Muir supports Bangor Christmas Day swimmers

Picture from BBC News of another Christmas Day swim

I support and admire members of Cathal Brugha water polo club who will take the plunge in Bangor Bay on Christmas Day.

Whilst I will be tucking into my turkey dinner on Christmas Day upwards of thirty members from Cathal Brugha Water Polo Club will swim in the chilly Bangor Bay waters in aid of The Children’s Hospice.

I admire these dedicated swimmers who will be taking the plunge in aid of charity and have already pledged money for their efforts. I hope they warm up quickly after the swim and are able to enjoy a warm and merry Christmas Day after a cold and icy swim.

Severe Weather updates

For more Severe Weather updates please visit my Facebook page http://on.fb.me/afePqF plus North Down Borough CouncilTraffic Watch NI, Translink and BBC News.

Refuse arrangements

Holywood Civic Amenity Site has reopened.

I am informed by North Down Borough Council Chief Exec that Bin Bags will be collected with Grey Bins when weather improves and collections resume.

More details about refuse arrangements at www.northdown.gov.uk

Bin collections update

As the weather has prevented grey bin collections being made in North Down to date this week - and the situation is likely to continue - it has been decided that instead of collecting blue bins next week, grey bins will be collected from
27-31 December.  This will of course depend on improved weather conditions.

The collection schedule will revert to normal from 3 January, which will be a grey bin week.  Blue bins will not now be collected until week commencing 10 January 2010.

Scrooge swindles £4,000 off pensioner

See this week's County Down Spectator for more information about a Holywood Pensioner was defrauded of £4,000 by a rogue builder.

I am disgusted that a bogus caller visited this older local resident and defrauded her of thousands pounds under the guise he was a builder

I was recently made aware of this incident and feel it's important that people across North Down are made aware. People should be wary of cold callers appearing on their doorstep and should always ask to see identification in order to verify their identity. If in doubt ring the police. Professional builders will never appear on your doorstep with horror stories and looking for cash to fix the alleged problems.

I would call on anyone else who has been visited by similar cold callers posing as builders wishing to undertake work to let the police know so we can hopefully catch the culprit.

Police advice is detailed below;

Superintendent Karen Baxter confirmed that local police were investigating this incident as a potential case of ‘Rogue Trading’ and appealed for anyone with any information to contact them.
The Superintendent explained that “Rogue Trading incidents are where consumers have been ’cold called’ by trades persons and then deliberately overcharging for unsatisfactory goods and/or services. It can include charging for unnecessary work, damaging property deliberately in order to obtain money, leaving work unfinished and intimidating behaviour in order to extort money.  It is known that the offenders travel large distances to commit crime and some of the teams exchange information with distraction burglars.”
She added ‘Rogue Traders are often organised crime groups who prey on vulnerable members of the community. They offer household property services such as clearing gutters, building, and tarmacing as a method to obtain as much money from their victim as possible’.
Superintendent Baxter recognised that the majority of trades people provided a very good service and explained that to satisfy themselves that trades people are genuine prospective clients should ask to see identification and references that can show the quality of their work. She went on to say that ‘where anyone purchases work over £35 they are entitled to a written notice explaining their right to cancel within 7 days, again a genuine traders will have no issues with providing this’. 
“The public should also be aware of bogus callers who depend on the good nature and good will of others. They tend to target the more vulnerable members of our society and in particular senior citizens. Everyone should be cautious of unexpected callers at their home. Our advice is very straightforward. 
“Think before you open the door - use your chain and spy hole or look out of the window to see if you recognise them. Do not open the door unless you know the individual.
“Ask callers for proof of identity. Genuine tradesmen should carry a photographic identification card. Check this carefully. If you are unsure, telephone QuickCheck on 0800 013 22 90.
“The call is free and will be answered by a trained operator. They will take the details of the company, which the caller claims to be visiting on behalf of, then contact the organisation to determine if the caller is genuine. If there is anything suspicious the operator will contact the police directly.”
Everyone should follow this advice when dealing with unexpected visitors:
• Before answering your door, ensure your back door is locked.
• Think before you open the door - use your chain and spy hole or look out of the window to see if you recognise them. 
• Ask callers for proof of identity. Genuine tradesmen should carry a photographic identification card. Check this carefully. If you are unsure, telephone QuickCheck on 0800 013 22 90.
• Beware of callers who attempt to distract you by claiming that they have seen something untoward in your rear garden or somewhere that may encourage you to leave your house - they may have an accomplice who is waiting to act upon this distraction. 
• If you are not convinced of the identity of the caller, don’t let them in. Ask the caller to come back later and arrange for a friend, relative or neighbour to be present on their return. 
Police urge householders to follow some common sense crime prevention measures to ensure that they will not become an opportunist burglar’s next victim. Reassessing your crime prevention routine is an important first step. Ensure your windows are locked as well as doors and make use of security lighting and alarms. Police would also advise householders to not keep large sums of money in the house. 
Anyone who would like further crime prevention advice on this or any other subject should contact their local police on 0845 600 8000  or speak directly with their local neighbourhood officer. Anyone with information about bogus callers or who witnesses any suspicious activity should also contact police.

Muir achieves progress concerning Kinnegar Sewage problem

Picture courtesy of bing

I have arranged a meeting with a top official from NI Water after Christmas to discuss the final report into the cause of the ongoing sewage stench in Kinnegar.

I welcome news that a report on the cause of the pollution will soon be ready. I have been informed that an interim report is ready but further exploratory work is being undertaken and a final report will be completed in January 2011. A possible solution has been found which may need extensive engineering work but until the final report is ready the exact picture is unclear.

I have been campaigning for an end to the sewage smell since early 2010 after he used Environmental Legislation  to discover that over 70 odour emission incidents occurred in 2009. Cllr Muir also recently uncovered a pollution problem described as ‘chronic’ with raw sewage discharged into the Kinnegar Lagoons in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The Kinnegar Lagoons contain scenic reed beds and are home to a wide array of wildlife.

Earlier this year I decided that action had to be taken in relation to the Sewage Smell at Kinnegar.  I was fed up with the foul smell which has been in the air for years.

I therefore used Environmental Legislation to discover the true extent of the problem and was shocked to discover that over 70 odour emission incidents occurred throughout 2009. I pressurised NI Water and was delighted when this paid off and NI Water started investing approximately £100,000 to discover the cause of the problem by conducting extensive surveys across the Holywood area.

I was however concerned about the impact on the local environment and carried out further enquiries which revealed numerous pollution incidents in the area. With many types of wildlife living in the polluted area and employees of local companies now informing me they often feel sick as a result of the smell, the time for action is now. People living, working or travelling nearby should not have put up with the pong and pollution. Neither should the many species of wildlife.

I have been assured by NI Water that they are “progressing this issue as a matter of urgency”. I have arranged a meeting after Christmas to review the final report and discuss next steps. I will not rest until this problem is sorted.

Muir welcomes Seapark improvements

North Down Borough Council tonight agreed to improve facilities at Seapark, Holywood after I raised the issue a few weeks ago. The old grey brick benches and flower beds previously built by Enterprise Ulster (pictured left) have long been in a state of disrepair and will soon be demolished.

The area will be tidied up and made much more attractive for the many people who visit the area from Holywood and further afield. 

I am glad to have achieved such progress but will continue to press for further improvements with Seapark a popular destination, especially in the Summer months with improved car parking and additional attractions urgently required.

Tonight’s move is an important first step which ensures that Holywood remains the ultimate place in Ireland to work, live and visit.

Postponement of Save our Reservoirs Public Meeting

Save our Reservoirs Campaign Public Meeting scheduled to take place this evening was unfortunately cancelled due to ice at Bangor Sportsplex which can't be used due to Health & Safety issues.

New date and time to be advised with rescheduled meeting hopefully to take place in early January 2011.

Sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused. I was informed of the decision to disallow use of the Sportsplex late afternoon and endeavoured to contact as many people as possible.

If you want to keep up to date about the Save our Reservoirs campaign please join my email list by emailing mail@andrewmuir.net 

Muir calls for more grit boxes

I strongly believe that more grit boxes should be made available across the Borough. I am making this call after being inundated by requests for side roads to be salted by residents in the Holywood area.

The recent cold snap means that many roads and pavements are very slippy, covered in ice and treacherous to use. Whilst I welcome the work undertaken by the Roads Service to grit all major roads more grit boxes should be available for people to salt minor roads and pavements.

One resident recently informed me “I would happily take my own time to grit the street for the residents if a grit box was provided for are use so people can go about their daily routine without the risk of injury.”

I have therefore communicated requests for grit boxes to the Roads Service and hope they will consider these favourably. People are prepared to work in partnership with the Roads Service, I hope they will reciprocate this gesture.

Muir raises Twisel Bridge Flooding Fears

I am concerned that the area around Twisel Bridge, Holywood could soon be flooded if immediate action isn’t taken. I am pressing the Rivers Agency to take action but fear it may soon be too late.

In late September I asked the Rivers Agency to remove the large tree trunks in the river near Twisel Bridge. In response they refused to move the tree trunks, stating they would only initiate action to ensure removal if there was “risk of a signficant increase of flooding”. The tree trunks have now moved as a result of the recent heavy rainfall and are very near the entrance to the culvert. If they aren’t immediately removed I fear that they will soon block the culvert with many houses in the nearby area flooded.”

I have asked the Rivers Agency to ensure the immediate removal of the tree trunks before many houses in Holywood are submerged in flood water.  The time for action is now.

Muir works to ban circuses involving animals

I have managed to partially close a loophole being used by circuses involving animals. The loophole has allowed them to easily establish circuses at sites across Northern Ireland and was recently exploited when Circus Vegas arrived on the Gransha Road, Bangor.

When Circus Vegas made their application a few months ago to North Down Borough Council to setup on the site of the old Bangor Academy School on the Gransha Road I was concerned but, unfortunately, it was approved as Council hands are tied. It seems that Councils in Northern Ireland cannot, unfortunately, refuse applications on land not owned by the Council simply because they disagree with animals featuring in circuses.

Conscious that the Circus was set-up on land owned by South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) I contacted the Board without any success. I then contacted the Minister for Education and requested that she intervene. In response CaitrĂ­ona Ruane informed me that she shared my concerns and suggested that I write to the Chief Executive for each Education and Library Board.

After contacting each Board I can now report that SEELB have decided to ban circuses involving animals from any SEELB land. The Western Board has also agreed to implement a similar ban but the North Eastern Board is refusing to take action with a Senior Official informing me that “I am content that the circuses using the Board’s lands are fully in compliance with the law”.

Belfast Board informs me that no applications have yet been received by circuses and, if so, would be carefully considered. The Southern Board hasn’t bothered to reply to my letter. I am however following this up.

Whilst I welcome the moves by SEELB and WELB I call upon the Minister for Education to intervene and ensure NEELB stops allowing their land to be used by circuses involving animals. Warm words of support must be followed up with real action.

Evidence from the Alliance for Animal Rights details “Animals in circuses live a life of restriction, cages, chains and constant transportation. All for a few minutes performing in the ring in the name of ‘entertainment’.”

With animals sometimes forced to perform confusing, uncomfortable, repetitious and often-painful acts I am glad that my actions will make it more difficult for circuses involving animals to establish at many sites across Northern Ireland. It will also be a relief for people living near the old Bangor Academy School who had the endure the circus on their doorstep during late July / early August 2010.

I will continue to campaign to see a Northern Ireland wide ban on circuses involving animals. Until the Agriculture Minister acts I will endeavour to close all available loopholes. Animal welfare must be higher up the political agenda. 

Muir convenes Save our Reservoirs Public Meeting

I am holding a Public Meeting concerning the proposed sale of Reservoirs across North Down after discovering that NI Water are considering fast tracking the sale of a number of the sites.

Representatives from a variety of key organisations such as Woodland Trust, RSPB and Ulster Wildlife Trust will be there to provide information.

As a result of information obtained it is clear that Portavoe plus Ballysallagh Upper and Lower Reservoirs are under clear and present danger. The Reservoirs now face the prospect of being flogged to the highest bidder..

NI Water emails obtained detail the following in relation to Ballysallagh Upper and Lower Reservoirs;

"I have passed a document to EMT requesting that a number of decommissioned sites be brought forward in the Disposal Plan and Ballysallagh IR's is included" 15 June 2010

"The bottom line from an operational perspective is that we would like these reservoirs sold asap as we are still obliged to carry out regular fenceline and reservoir inspections and the associated Health and Safety maintenance picked up as a result" 10 September 2009

"I would welcome a fast track disposal strategy" 20 April 2010

"End result if it all works out - You get rid of at least one of the reservoirs. NI Water takes in some money". 20 April 2010

Ballysallagh Reservoirs aren't unfortunately the only Reservoirs under immediate threat. Portavoe Reservoir between Groomsport and Donaghadee is also listed for sale in 2011/12. Two Reservoirs in Conlig are also scheduled for sale in 2013/14 with the sale of the Church Road and Creighton’s Green Reservoirs scheduled for 2015/16.

I have now organised a Public Meeting scheduled for Wednesday 8 December 2010, 7.30pm at Bangor Sportsplex, Old Belfast Road, Bangor.

The meeting is open to everyone, including other politicians. This is both a North Down and Northern Ireland wide problem which requires a united approach.

Woodland Trust, RSPB and Ulster Wildlife Trust will be in attendance to provide information.

I hope that the meeting will result in the formation of a Campaign Committee.

I look forward to seeing many people at the meeting on 8 December 2010 to Save our Reservoirs.

Holywood Conservation Group success

Holywood Conservation Group can this week report success in relation to 16-18 Victoria Road, Holywood.

When faced with a Judicial Review hearing the NI Planning Service agreed to the Court quashing the Planning Permission for 9 new dwellings at 16-18 Victoria Road, Holywood. This dramatic turnaround was in direct response to legal action initiated by the Holywood Conservation Group. The development was also strongly opposed by local residents, North Down Borough Council, local MLA’s, and Lady Sylvia Hermon MP.

A spokesperson for Holywood Conservation Group said “This outcome should be welcomed by all. This is good news for all Conservation Areas but we are not complacent as there is more work to be done. Our concern is about the Planning Service failing to closely follow their own published policy and procedures. Conservation Areas are a special case in which there is a presumption against intensification of a site.

Nevertheless Holywood Conservation Group has a good relationship with the Planning Service and we wish to continue to work constructively with them to ensure that good decisions are made in the future. We are keen to avoid the need to venture into legal action – a costly exercise for both ourselves and the Planners. We also respect and acknowledge that the Planning Service has a very difficult task in trying to balance conflicting interests in a wide variety of circumstances”.

Holywood Conservation Group was set up in 2002 and has around 200 members. Its primary aim is to conserve quality buildings and trees in and around Holywood so that everyone can enjoy a better environment in which to live and work. In 2004 it was successful in lobbying for a Conservation Area and won a Judicial Review against the Planning Appeals Commission concerning development within the Conservation Area. Additionally, it played a major role in saving Holywood Old School, has organised the funding and planting of 66 trees in the town centre, and continues to influence the design of quality signage in the High Street – Boots and Tesco’s being the most recent examples. The spokesperson concluded “As a voluntary organisation we are wholly dependent upon our loyal supporters. We try to make a difference without stifling reasonable development or business".

As Alliance Councillor for the area I am very satisfied with the outcome achieved by Holywood Conservation Group. The Group has relentlessly campaigned since it’s foundation to ensure sensible planning and has again delivered real success protecting Holywood’s Built Heritage for future generations.

The decision sets an important precedent which will hopefully ensure our Conservation Area is protected and planning policies adhered to. Whilst it’s important for Holywood to grow and develop this must be done sensitively in the context of our general surroundings.

The Planning Service shouldn’t have approved squeezing nine dwellings into the 16-18 Victoria Road site. I am glad common sense has prevailed and look forward to more sensible planning decisions in the future

Muir and Lockhart Alliance candidates for Holywood

The Alliance Party have chosen Bill Lockhart and I to stand for election to North Down Borough Council next year in the Holywood District Electoral Area.

Adam Harbinson and Christine Bower will stand in Ballyholme and Groomsport, Tony Hill and Anne Wilson in Bangor West plus Michael Bower in the Abbey area.

Aged 34 I was born and bred in North Down and work in a professional capacity as a Manager with Translink after being employed as a Manager in the field of Customer Relations, Marketing and IT with a range of arts organisations such as the Grand Opera House, Belfast Festival, Ulster Orchestra and the Arts Council. 

I currently serve as an Alliance Party Councillor on North Down Borough Council representing the Holywood area. I was co-opted to replace Dr David Alderdice in July 2010 after he stood down due to work commitments. I also serve as Chairperson of the local Alliance Party Association in North Down and a member of Alliance Party’s Central Executive Committee. 

I am committed to listening and acting upon the concerns of local people and businesses and building a new peaceful, open and welcoming society which respects difference. I actively work to assist local businesses and support job creation. 

As a keen environmental activist I am also involved in a range of projects to support the creation of a cleaner, greener North Down with sensible planning. I am a eager amateur athlete competing in road runs across Ireland and believe our local parks and sporting facilities should be protected and enhanced.

I am currently leading a number of campaigns such as Save our Reservoirs, Stop the Kinnegar Sewage Smell, Bicycle friendly Borough, Battle to re-open King John’s Highway plus Holywood 5k Race. I am also closely involved with projects such as Holywood YOUnite Festival 2010 and Holywood Shared Services and Spaces.

I am active in a range of organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Holywood Residents Association, Holywood Conservation Group, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, Sustrans, European Movement plus Amnesty International. I am an Independent Member of North Down District Policing Partnership and graduated from the University of Ulster Magee Campus in Derry / Londonderry in 1999 after studying Peace and Conflict Studies.

Dr Bill Lockhart retried as Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Agency at the end of August 2010. Since retirement Bill is active in the local community and is in the process of setting up a Men’s Shed in Holywood – based on the successful Australian model which has delivered positive outcomes in terms of men’s well-being whilst offering practical services to the whole community. He is also on the Working Group for Shared Spaces and Services.
Bill is a Chartered Forensic Psychologist who has worked within the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland for over 30 years. More recently he served as Chief Executive for the Extern organisation from April 1994 to June 2004. He has longstanding knowledge and expertise in both community development and the role of the voluntary sector.

Bill is a graduate in psychology and philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast, and holds postgraduate qualifications in counselling psychology, including a doctorate from Aston University in Birmingham. He holds a range of leadership and management qualifications including a diploma in strategic management. Most recently he completed a short course in leadership in retirement run by Common Purpose and the Said Business School (Oxford University). Bill is a member of the Institute of Directors.

Bill has lived in Holywood for 26 years and prior to that in Bangor. Bill has a range of interests, including painting, photography, photojournalism, learning Irish and sports psychology but is to be found most cold and wet winter weekends managing a youth rugby team.

Muir supports European Week for Waste Reduction

I support European Week for Waste Reduction 2010. European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR) takes place from 20 to 28 November across the European Union in order to get people thinking about producing less waste.

The week will hopefully raise awareness and encourage people to talk about how we can reduce how much we throw away. With the cost of sending refuse to landfill ever increasing and fines from the EU on the horizon if we don’t increase the amount we reduce, reuse and recycle the time for action is now.

I am informed that, on average, people are currently generating their our own body weight in rubbish every six weeks. I therefore intend to take my own personal actions to lighten the load during the week by seeking out items with less packaging and cutting down the volume of documents and emails I print.

Bicycle friendly Borough - Public meeting organised by Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth North Down and Ards local group would like to invite you to our Public Meeting concerning Cycling in North Down.

The meeting will discuss potential campaign to create a Bicycle friendly Borough

Come along and find out more about the benefits of a Bicycle friendly Borough

Get involved in our campaign to change North Down where cycling is safer, quicker and more attractive

Speakers from Sustrans, Belfast Cycle City and Friends of the Earth

Thursday 2 December 7.30pm at Marine Court Hotel, 18-20 Quay Street, Bangor, BT20 5ED

Raffle, Tea and Coffee, Free Admission

For further details contact Andrew Muir mail@andrewmuir.net Tel 07813 945411

Holywood YOUnite Festival 2010

The Holywood Shared Spaces and Services Team, working with North Down Borough Council Good Relations Section, has partnered with Beyond Skin, Homely Planet, the PSNI, Redburn Loughview Community Forum and Unite Against Hate, to deliver aweek of activities.

The Holywood YOUnite Festival will address the hard issues of Good Relations in raising awareness of sectarianism and racism and how they affect our community.  The purpose of the week is to promote the concept of Holywood as a shared community, which has a zero tolerance approach to hate crime and its many manifestations. The week will promote equality and a culture of mutual respect and tolerance where diversity is embraced and celebrated.

Details of the events taking place during the festival week are outlined below:

Friday 19th – Sports Event
(Sporting blitz and competition with 11-16 yr olds - St. Paul's GAA grounds)

Friday 19th – Workshop on sport and sectarianism
(For the children who take part in the sports event. Queen’s Leisure Complex from 6pm – 7.30pm)

Saturday 20th – Everybody Comes To Holywood
(Youth Radio & Music workshop @ Christian Fellowships Church, Holywood 3pm – 5pm)

Monday 22nd – Polish Folk Art Workshop
(7pm - 9 pm with the RECON Youth Group at Holywood Presbyterian Church)

Monday 22nd – ‘Our Shared Past’
(Talk by Con Auld in Holywood Library from 7pm - 8.45pm)

Tuesday 23rd - Taste of Holywood – Multicultural Food Evening
(7-10 pm in Redburn Community Centre. Invite Only)

Wednesday 24th – Holywood Talks Back
(Adult Discussion in Redburn Community Centre from 7pm -9 pm)

Thursday 25th – Workshop with Dominic Bryan from QUB on Flags and Emblems
(Redburn Community Centre from 7pm - 9.30 pm)

Friday 26th – Workshop with Jackie McArthur (on music and conflict in the Youth Wing of the Queen’s Leisure Complex with Holywood True Blues Flute Band and a loyalist bodhran group from Rathgill in Bangor)

Saturday 27th – ‘Toast of Holywood’ – Holywood YOUnite Festival Award Ceremony
(Redburn Community Centre from 7pm - 10 pm. Invite Only).

Saturday 27th – Live music at High Street locations 1pm – 4pm

If you require more information on any of the events taking place please do not hesitate to contact Patricia O'Toole 028 9042 1420 Patricia.O'Toole@northdown.gov.uk

The Dunville Family and Remembrance Sunday in Holywood

I attended the Remembrance Sunday in Holywood today for the first time as a Councillor. It was a moving ceremony attended by many people.

After the Mayor laid a Wreath the "Dunville Wreath" was laid by one of the Councillors from the Holywood area.

Whilst I am aware that the Dunville family and Holywood are closely linked and Redburn Country Park contains many interesting sights linking us back to the Dunville Era I conducted some research today about the Wreath.

The history behind the Dunville Wreath is very interesting. It is laid after a request was left by John Dunville's widow Violet that a wreath is left each Armistice Day in memory of her son, John Spencer Dunville, V.C.

More information about the Dunville Wreath and the strong association between Holywood and the Dunville family can be found at http://www.dumville.org/whiskey.html 

Fast track sale of Reservoirs

I will soon be holding a Public Meeting to Save our Reservoirs after discovering that NI Water are considering fast tracking sale of Reservoirs in the North Down area.

It is hoped that local people will form a Campaign Committee to fight NI Water's plans to sell the Reservoirs. Representatives from a variety of key organisations such as Woodland Trust, RSPB and Ulster Wildlife Trust will be there to provide information.

I have been campaigning to Save our Reservoirs since I discovered in August that NI Water plan to sell many Reservoirs across Northern Ireland. Numerous impounding reservoirs across Northern Ireland are now under threat as a result of Project Alpha. 

When I initially became aware that NI Water planned to sell a number of Reservoirs in the North Down area I was assured that there was no need to worry. I was told they weren't under immediate threat and, in the case of Ballysallagh Upper and Lower Reservoirs, they were scheduled for disposal in 2013/14.

I wasn't however prepared to sit back whilst the future of these assets remained uncertain. I used my initiative and submitted a request to NI Water under Environmental Information Regulations seeking a copy of all correspondence and documentation relating to the Reservoirs under threat in North Down.

I am now shocked to learn that Ballysallagh Upper and Lower Reservoirs are under clear and present danger. The Reservoirs are located in the Craigantlet Hills between Bangor and Holywood and now face the prospect of being flogged to the highest bidder.

NI Water emails obtained by Cllr Muir detail the following in relation to Ballysallagh Upper and Lower Reservoirs;

"I have passed a document to EMT requesting that a number of decommissioned sites be brought forward in the Disposal Plan and Ballysallagh IR's is included" 15 June 2010

"The bottom line from an operational perspective is that we would like these reservoirs sold asap as we are still obliged to carry out regular fenceline and reservoir inspections and the associated Health and Safety maintenance picked up as a result" 10 September 2009

"I would welcome a fast track disposal strategy" 20 April 2010

"End result if it all works out - …… You get rid of at least one of the reservoirs. NI Water takes in some money". 20 April 2010

Whilst I condemn these plans I am quickly developing a plan of action to Save our Reservoirs. Rather than shallow words of condemnation I am fighting these plans in conjunction with other people, politicians and key interest groups.

Ballysallagh Reservoirs aren't unfortunately the only Reservoirs under immediate threat. Portavoe Reservoir between Groomsport and Donaghadee is also listed for sale in 2011/12.

I therefore proposed a Motion at North Down Borough Council along with another Councillor on Tuesday evening to take action in relation to plans to sell this reservoir. The motion recommends that a joint working group is set-up by Ards and North Down Borough Council's in order to fight NI Water's plans to sell Portavoe Reservoir. 

Other Reservoirs are also under threat such as Lough Cowey near Portaferry and Stoneyford Reservoir near Lisburn. Two Reservoirs in Conlig are also scheduled for sale in 2013/14 with the sale of the Church Road and Creighton’s Green Reservoirs scheduled for 2015/16.

I have now organised a Public Meeting scheduled for Wednesday 8 December 2010, 7.30pm at Bangor Sportsplex, Old Belfast Road, Bangor.

The meeting is open to everyone, including other politicians, to discuss how to push forward the campaign and hopefully result in a Campaign Committee. This is a Northern Ireland wide problem which requires a united approach. Woodland Trust, RSPB and Ulster Wildlife Trust will be in attendance at the meeting with information on the wildlife value of the sites.

Some people have recently suggested that the Reservoirs should be drained and used for farming, housing, or landfill. I am fundamentally opposed to these suggestions. The Reservoirs provide a home to a massive array of wildlife. They also provide the potential for many leisure opportunities in addition to their current use by Anglers, providing, of course, the new leisure activities can be safely accommodated.

It's important government retains ownership of the Reservoirs to ensure security of supply and in order to avoid any flood risks.

I dread to think what could happen if the Reservoirs are snapped up by a private company and regular maintenance isn't undertaken. Only recently large parts of Hungary were engulfed by toxic sludge when a Reservoir dam burst near Ajka with ten people killed, hundreds of residents evacuated and many businesses destroyed.

I look forward to seeing many people at the meeting on 8 December 2010 to Save our Reservoirs.

To join my email list and keep updated about Save our Reservoirs please email mail@andrewmuir.net

Muir calls for action concerning Bangor's Graffiti Gateway

I want the Roads Service to clean up it's act and remove graffiti at a key Gateway into Bangor. I  reported graffiti under the Springhill Flyover on 17 August 2010 and has now received a reply from a Senior Roads Service Official detailing that "removal of graffiti of a general nature cannot be justified". I am concerned that this sets a dangerous precedent applicable across Northern Ireland and has asked authorities to re-think their decision.

A number of weeks ago graffiti appeared under the Springhill Flyover on the Belfast Road which leads directly into Bangor Town Centre from main Belfast to Bangor Road. I promptly contacted the Roads Service and was informed that offensive aspects would removed when resources allow.

With all the graffiti still remaining including sectarian aspects I again contacted the Roads Service requesting prompt removal but no action was forthcoming. When I threatened to paint over the offensive graffiti myself action mysteriously took place with the paramilitary makings covered up on 12 October. 

We now have a situation where the pillars supporting the Springhill Flyover are smothered in graffiti, the Roads Service have their heads in the sand and refuse to take action with the problem now getting worse. In the last few days the gateway is also proving a magnet for fly posters”.

The Belfast Road is a key gateway into Bangor which welcomes many people who live, work or visit Bangor on a daily basis. Failure to remove this graffiti sends out an awful message has the potential to deter visitors and businesses from investing in Bangor when we badly need jobs. Many people have contacted me in relation to the graffiti and are outraged that government is refusing to act.

I condemn outright those who painted this graffiti, especially the sectarian aspects. This kind of behaviour is the last thing we need as we battle to build a Shared Society and grow our economy. They should be pursued with vigour by the Police.

I do however urge the Roads Service to reconsider their decision and deploy resources to remove this awful graffiti without any further delay. Their decision to not remove graffiti of a general nature sets a dangerous precedent and I hope they re-think their flawed decision.

Time government learnt lessons from businesses

Whilst the economic downturn is making life tough for many businesses across North Down many rays of hope can be found between the dark and gloomy clouds that have hung over Northern Ireland for far too long.

As a local Councillor I regularly encounter business people who are setting up new enterprises and expanding their current operations. When times are tough I applaud these business men and women for the courage shown.

Businesses across North Down are showing amazing innovation and willingness to take calculated risks which are paying dividends in terms of economic growth, job creation and a positive “can do” spirit.

Whilst some parties shy away from risky decisions, allow billions to be wasted and refuse to implement smart and shared solutions in government businesses are battling on regardless.

With The Little Wing Pizzeria, Frisky Bear and Rabbit Rooms now trading successfully it's apparent that business people in North Down are fit and lean animals, devouring opportunities and enjoying the taste of success.

It's about time politicians and government learnt a few lessons from businesses, stopped wasting billions due to the costs of division and indecision and built a new Northern Ireland. Citizens and businesses should be enabled and supported to realise the many fantastic opportunities that exist by a new form of government which puts smart, shared solutions over separation and small minded disputes.

This article appeared in The Newsletter and The County Down Spectator.

Muir condemns Ballyholme Beach Water Quality failure

I give a cautious welcome to the recent bathing water quality report and news which states that Helen's Bay and Crawfordsburn Beaches meet European Standards. I am however critical of NI Water after Ballyholme Beach failed to meet the mandatory requirements for the EC's Bathing Water Directive.

Whilst it's good news that Helen's Bay and Crawfordsburn Beaches have been given the green light only a few months ago did I uncover raw sewage in the sea near both beaches. This pollution on 16 August 2010 had been caused by NI Water when their combined sewer overflow near Carnalea Golf Club failed.

Whilst the report may give the beaches a green light it's apparent that the beach isn't sewage free all year round and action is still required. NI Water need to clean up their act. More regular water testing of bathing waters is also required with much more prompt responses when pollution occurs. Two days after the pollution on Monday 16 August 2010 NI Environment Agency only carried out a visual inspection. We had to wait until the Friday before a water sample was taken.

The standard of bathing waters in Ballyholme is a disgrace. Investment urgently needs to be made by NI Water to ensure the water is clean and people can safely bathe when visiting the beach.

In order to grow our economy, encourage tourists and provide good leisure opportunities it's important that North Down is clean and green. For far too long the people of North Down have had to cope with dirty bathing waters. Enough is enough.

King John’s Highway Path blocked AGAIN!

The pedestrian gates providing access to the King John's Highway Path on Creighton's Green Road, Holywood were again blocked at the weekend by, I presume, the landowner.

I will continue to support efforts by North Down Borough Council to re-open the path and give people free access to this valuable Right of Way which provides good leisure opportunities plus a safe means to access the Craigantlet Hills by foot.

If you know anything about the history of this Right of Way please contact me so this can be added to the information already obtained which proves that King John's Highway Path is a Right of Way and people should not be impeded from using it.

Suicide - Samaritans launch new campaign

The Samaritans last week launched a new campaign to highlight the issue of suicide in light of the increasing number of young men who are taking their own lives.

I strongly welcome this campaign by The Samaritans highlighting an issue which destroys many lives each year. It is particularly concerning that it seems that an increasing number of Young Men are taking their own lives and I hope this campaign will help reverse the trend.

People take their own lives for many different reasons. In my own experience friends have chosen to end their life because of variety of reasons including personal circumstances and societal attitudes.

I will continue to work as a politician to create a new type of society where people are valued and able to enjoy their life to the full without feeling the need to consider suicide. 

The Samaritans can be contacted via 08457 90 90 90 or jo@samaritans.org

Muir condemns lack of action to save listed buildings

As reported in Friday's Belfast Telegraph I am calling for more action to save listed buildings after discovering that only two Urgent Works Notices have been issued by NI Environment Agency in the last ten years.

I discovered the shocking statistic after submitting a Freedom of Information request. The response details that one Urgent Works Notice was issued in 2004/05 and one in 2008/09. Urgent Works Notices are issued when government intervenes to undertake emergency repairs to save historic listed buildings.

I had previously contacted the NI Environment Agency about a listed building close to the Priory at Stewarts Place, Holywood. Constituents have been raising concerns about the ongoing deterioration of this building and I wanted to ensure the NI Environment Agency was taking all the necessary actions to stop it falling into a even worse state of disrepair.

This listed building is an important part of Holywood's landscape and shouldn't be allowed to deteriorate any further. I understand it was built in 1840 by William Lowry and named after the first post-master of Holywood, Hugh Stewart. I fear that if remedial action isn't taken soon demolition will next be suggested as a fait accompli.

When I contacted the NI Environment Agency I was informed;

"We confirm we had been in negotiations with the owner regarding the proposed refurbishment of 1 Stewarts Place, Holywood, however due to the recent downturn the proposals are on hold.

When the proposals were postponed we made the owners aware of their responsibility to ensure that the building was safeguarded from any further deterioration.

As a response to your enquiry we have written to the owner again to reiterate this responsibility and have suggested the following specific work items are carried out; removal of vegetation, ventilation to boarded windows, repair of rainwater goods and making good of any areas of missing or defective render”.

With the degree of risk associated with this building considered to be High I wasn’t prepared to accept such a lax approach with merely a letter being sent asking for work to be carried out. I then asked when Urgent Repairs Notices have been served. With only two notices issued in the last ten years government is obviously reluctant to take decisive action. I utterly condemn this laissez faire attitude. Property owners shouldn't be allowed to sit back and watch listed buildings in their ownership to rot and decay.

A stronger enforcement regime is required to ensure no more fine buildings are lost across North Down and beyond. I will continue to highlight this issue and to ensure protection of listed buildings appears higher up the Environment Minister's Agenda.

Have your say on the future of Bangor Town Centre

Department for Social Development this week launched a Public Consultation on Draft Bangor Town Centre Masterplan.

I have mixed views in relation to the proposals which I feel have some merit but lack sufficent ambition.

Make sure you have your say! Details on how to express your views at http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/index/consultations/consultation-bangor-town-centre-draft-masterplan.htm


A number of people have recently contacted me requesting an allotment.

Whilst government does not have any plans at the moment to provide more allotments in North Down there's lots of great initiatives being undertaken by groups.

Check out Growing Connections in Bangor. Alternatively visit Holywood Transition Town and find out more about the inspirational work they are undertaking at Redburn Primary School.

Growing Connections and the work being undertaken by Holywood Transition Town proves that government doesn't always have to do everything. The needs of people can often be better met by local communities themselves.

St Paul’s GAA Club, Holywood

Last week I met with a representative from St Paul’s Gaelic Athletic Club to keep them up to date on my work and establish if I could provide any assistance in relation to any matter.

St Paul's is a busy club based in Holywood serving North Down and Ards. It plays a vital role and is a key part of the local community. I welcome their presence and am proud of their sporting achievements.

St Paul’s is open and accessible to everyone across North Down and Ards. Sport, whether it’s swimming, athletics, hockey, soccer, rugby, Gaelic football or hurling is good for the mind and body whilst also an important part of our social fabric. 

My PE Teacher once stated in my School Report that I was unable to co-ordinate my feet with my mind. I therefore prefer road running and avoid sports such as gaelic football but I appreciate the sport and support both Down and St Paul's. I wish St Paul's plus all other North Down Sporting Clubs every success in future competitions.

Creative industries demonstrating great innovation

Earlier today I visited Eddie Doherty, Contemporary Goldsmith based at The Old School, Church Road, Holywood.

Eddie has established a great business serving customers from as far afield as London. By producing unique hand made jewellery and other beautiful items Eddie has established a great business which continues to grow, primarily through word of mouth.

With some support from the Arts Council of NI and Craft NI he now uses the office space attached to the Old School in Holywood which was fantastically equipped with bespoke furniture supplied by ‘Design Onion’.

Eddie has taken calculated risks by establishing his business and developing such a unique business model but it has paid dividends and I am very proud to have such an enterprise within North Down.

Over the next few weeks when government is looking to cut public spending it is vital that the case is made for the arts and creative industries. Big socio economic benefits are derived from the arts and the creative industries sector who are leading the way in terms of innovation, the lifeblood of any successful economy.

Rather than slashing funding and support government should be learning from people such as Eddie – creativity, innovation and calculated risk taking is exactly what the public sector badly needs!

Eddie can be contacted via eddiejdoherty@yahoo.co.uk or Tel 07791 619078 and opens by appointment only. More details at http://craftni.org/directory/maker/eddie-doherty/

More details concerning Design Onion can be found at www.designonion.net Tel 07955 692608 Email info@designonion.net

Muir uncovers chronic pollution in Holywood

I am now calling for urgent action by NI Water after discovering a series of pollution incidents which have taken place in the Kinnegar area since 2008. The pollution has taken place in an area inhabited by lots of wildlife whilst health concerns are now arising as a result of what NI Environment Agency describe as a ‘chronic problem’.

Earlier this year I discovered that over 70 odour emission incidents had occurred at Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment works during 2009. After discovering this shocking statistic I started pressurising NI Water to take action and was recently informed that approximately £100,000 would be spent surveying the sewage system across Holywood to identify the cause of the pungent sewage smell which regularly emanates from the area surrounding Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment Works.

As part of my campaign to end the sewage smell I contacted NI Environment Agency (NIEA) to ensure the odour problems were not related to any pollution in the area. NIEA have subsequently informed me that the reed beds and pond system near the Treatment Works were polluted with raw sewage on a number of occasions in 2008, 2009 and again in 2010 as a result of what NIEA describe as a ‘chronic problem’.

Wildlife at risk

I am very concerned after discovering that the scenic Reed Beds have been polluted on an number of occasions since 2008. After conducting some research it’s apparent that reed beds are located within Kinnegar Lagoons which are home to a wide range of wildlife such as Great-crested Grebe, Shelduck, Swans, Oystercatchers, Gulls, Terns and Small Waders. I fear that some wildlife may have been harmed as a result of these pollution incidents and that many may perish if Northern Ireland Water don’t resolve this chronic problem without delay.

I also fear that NI Water may now soon start facing fines due to this chronic problem. Wildlife should be able to live in the lagoons free from raw sewage whilst people should also be able to live, work and travel past the area without being subjected to a disgusting sewage smell on an ongoing basis.

Chronic problem causing health concerns

I was recently contacted by people working in the area who reported that the smell sometimes makes then sick and light headed whilst another worker had to go home from work after feeling seriously nauseous as a result of the smell.

The lack of strong action by NIEA in relation to this matter yet again proves the need for an Independent Environmental Protection Agency. After querying why NIEA have only issued Warning Letters I was informed by a Senior NIEA official;

“No further enforcement action, other than a warning letter, was taken in this case as the problem was associated with deficiencies in the sewerage network inherited from DRD Water Service and not due to act or default on the part of Northern Ireland Water (NIW).  The blockages were cleared quickly on each occasion by NIW and as you will be aware a survey of the sewerage network in the area is ongoing to identify a solution to this chronic problem.”

NIEA have detailed “during the period 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2010 pollution incidents attributed to NIW have attracted the following enforcement action: 16 successful prosecutions with fines totalling £34,200, 6 further files currently with the Public Prosecution Service, 64 warning letters”

The era of “light touch” regulation most stop with less Warning Letters and more Prosecutions to ensure the environment is safeguarded rather than abused.

I have now written to the Minister for Regional Development calling for urgent action and am now seeking a meeting with NI Water to discuss how they intend to plug the sewage problem without delay to safeguard wildlife and to protect the health of people living, working or travelling nearby.

Cllr Muir announces Dialogue Youth

I intend to hold a Open Meeting under the banner 'Dialogue Youth' for Young People living in the Holywood area to come along and share their views.

The event will take place on Monday 25 October 2010, 6.30pm at the Youth Wing, Queen’s Leisure Complex, Holywood and will be opened by Patricia Lewsley, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People.

As a Councillor I am keen to ensure I am listening to the views of everyone across North Down. Councillor Andrew Muir’s  ‘Dialogue Youth’ will therefore provide an opportunity for young people living in the Holywood area to come along and share their views and concerns with their local Councillor with food and refreshments afterwards.

The event will be independently chaired by a professional Youth Worker with no preset agenda.

North Down Alliance Celebrates 40th Anniversary

The Alliance Party in North Down today held an event to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Party.

For those who unaware, The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland was founded at a house in Bangor forty years ago in 1970.

I attended the event as Chairperson of the Alliance Party in North Down and delivered most of words contained in the following speech, after thanking all those who organised such a great event;
Since the Party was founded in 1970 Northern Ireland has changed a lot but the Party’s founding principals still remain relevant.
When Alliance was established it was stated “The objectives of the party shall be to heal  the bitter divisions in our community and to promote the policies of the party as determined by the Council” 
Society is still divided. Sectarianism and intolerance still prevails. As we saw earlier this week, some people still haven’t abandoned using bombs and bullets to achieve their aims. 
Forty years later Alliance still has a crucial role to play in building a new Northern Ireland where democracy, dialogue and respect for difference prevails over division, intolerance and violence. Our founding principles have endured over the years and still remain relevant today.
When the Party was founded guidance was issued to let the media know a bit more about Alliance. 
The guidance commenced “The Alliance Party, as it’s name applies, is an alliance of Catholics and Protestants throughout Northern Ireland. Its membership is comprised of people from all income groups and all walks of life”.
This also remains relevant today and, as a sign of our success, the Alliance is now even wider embracing not only Catholics and Protestants but many more people including people such as Anna Lo, Alliance MLA for South Belfast. A Taoist and the first ethnic Chinese born person to be elected to a legislative parliament in Europe.
Whilst Northern Ireland society has become more diverse, DUP are in government along with Sinn Fein and Martin Maginess is now attending the Conservative Party conference as welcome guest some things don’t change.
In the guidance document issued to the media it stated “Our attitude to the Unionist Party can be summed up as follows:- It is no longer a credible political force. It is hopelessly split at least three ways”. Some things never change.
Whilst others remain stuck in the past Alliance looks to the future.
Alliance has a strong and proud track record, fighting the battle against sectarianism whilst also making the case for a Shared Society.
During the dark days of the Troubles many people joined Alliance, many also campaigned for Alliance, some sought and were elected as Alliance candidates, some even led Alliance. I feel very proud to stand here today amongst many of those people. To you all, I have just two simple words,  Thank you.

National Poetry Day

It's National Poetry Day today. What's your favourite Poem? Mine is "A time for Everything" from Book of Ecclesiastes;

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 
a time to be born and a time to die, 
a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
a time to kill and a time to heal, 
a time to tear down and a time to build, 
a time to weep and a time to laugh, 
a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, 
a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 
a time to search and a time to give up, 
a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
a time to tear and a time to mend, 
a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
a time to love and a time to hate, 
a time for war and a time for peace... 

Friends have recommended Give Me Women, Wine, and SnuffA Spring Vacation by Derek MahonTale of the Ancient MarinerWarning by Jenny Joseph and The Owl and the Pussycat;

The Owl and the Pussy Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!" 

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose. 

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

The Owl and the Pussy Cat
Edward Lear