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

Muir calls for action after Air Quality falls near A2 Bangor to Belfast Road

Air Quality Monitoring
Station at A2 Holywood
Picture from Google Maps
As a member of North Down Borough Council I recently received a copy of the 2009 Air Quality report for North Down Borough Council. Each Local Authority across Northern Ireland is obliged to compile such a report on an annual basis.

Though it is reported that the Air Quality objectives are not being exceeded in North Down increased emissions are being recorded as a result of traffic on the A2 Bangor to Belfast Carriageway. Nitrogen Dioxide is on the rise with 32 Annual Mean Concentrations recorded by the Air Quality Monitoring station at Marine Parade, Holywood in 2008 compared to 31 in 2007 and 2006. Approximately 44,000 vehicles travel along the A2 everyday.

Whilst I accept that people need to get from A to B government needs to radically re-think it’s transportation strategy. Better incentives should be offered to people who wish to use transport solutions other than the private car such as cycling, rail and bus. Far too long government has sat back and enabled the growth of private car usage without understanding the environmental impact road traffic causes. Government also seem oblivious to the fact that there soon won’t be any more room for any more cars. Any motorist who tries to drive to Belfast from Bangor or Holywood along the A2 at 8am any weekday morning will understand what I mean.

With the Comprehensive Spending Review on the horizon, Air Quality falling and traffic on the A2 growing now is the perfect time for the government to act and rebalance transportation spending towards more sustainable solutions. Until the government acts I will continue to work with groups such as Friends of the Earth and Sustrans to create better cycling infrastructure across North Down.

Please note - This statement is issued in a personal capacity as an Alliance Party Councillor.