Alliance selects Thompson for North Down Council

I am delighted to announce that The Alliance Party have selected Larry Thompson to contest the Holywood Area in North Down in the upcoming Local Government Election. Larry was selected to replace a previous candidate Bill Lockhart who had to withdraw due to work commitments. Larry will run with me in this area.

Alliance MLA for North Down, Stephen Farry said: “Larry is a marvellous addition to the North Down team seeking election at the upcoming election. He is a well known and respected face in the local community. I would like to pay tribute to Bill Lockhart who has had to withdraw due to work commitments."

Larry Thompson said: “Alliance has had a strong team representing the whole community on North Down Borough Council. If elected I hope to continue their great work to ensure that the local ratepayers get value for money from the services that the Council provides.

“Only Alliance has provided serious and logical solutions to the problems in our society. While other parties have refused to tackle the difficult issues, Alliance has been willing to sit down and negotiate with those who may not share the same views as us."

Muir calls for action to sort shambolic Downshire Road

It's about time the Roads Service took immediate action to finish road works on Downshire Road. Work started to resurface the road and pavements along Downshire Road, Holywood many weeks ago but the area remains a mess with a local resident recently falling into an exposed hole.

Work to resurface the road commenced many weeks ago but is still continuing with piles of rubble randomly located along the road, pavements uneven and road markings missing. 

Contractors seem to have adopted a very sloppy approach with no efforts made to move a car blocking the road when it was resurfaced. Rather than getting it lifted the new tarmac was laid around it!

I have now contacted the Roads Service requesting immediate action to remove any hazards for pedestrians and a full update concerning when the work will be properly completed. 

People are fed up with the shambolic mess and want action to finish the work without any further delay.

Keeping in touch

The Northern Ireland Assembly have posted a video, pictures and other content following their tweetup event which attracted many people including a few twitter enthusiasts from North Down.

The video provides some food for thought concerning how politicians and government should engage with the people.

I am personally committed to good communication and engagement through a variety of means, whether by meeting people through, for example, Residents meetings, regular Focus update leaflets delivered to households across Holywood, a professional approach to Public Relations, Facebook updates, Tweets and blog postings.

If you have any suggestions on how I can improve communication please post a comment, tweet or send a Facebook message.

Muir shocked at Holywood robbery

I am shocked to learn that a lady in her 50s by two youths was robbed last Tuesday in the Abbey Ring area, Holywood. One of them threatened the lady with a knife before taking money from her purse. She was unhurt but shaken. 

I was outraged and shocked to learn of this robbery, particularly given that the youths who carried out this crime may have been as young as 12. No one should have to go through such a traumatic experience.

On the same day I was proud to attend Official Unveiling of Intergenerational Patchwork Quilt at Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. This Quilt was made by the local 55+ club and P6 and P7 Pupil’s from Redburn Primary School and proves that the actions of a few do not represent the overwhelming majority of young and old people who want to live in a safe, prosperous and shared society.   

I will continue to support the police and other agencies to ensure incidents such as the disgraceful robbery of this lady in the Loughview Area never occur again.  

This incident wasn’t initially reported to the Police and only came to light via Holywood PSNI Facebook site.  

If anybody has any information about this robbery then they should contact the police. I hope that the people responsible for this crime are identified and punished accordingly.

Muir welcomes Coastal Path upgrades

I welcome plans by North Down Borough Council to undertake further upgrades to the North Down Coastal Path. The path extends from Holywood in the west to Orlock in the east and incorporates many interesting features including Grey Point Fort and Crawfordsburn Country Park.

I welcome the planned investment which will involve Council spending an additional £1,500 to enable the realignment and upgrade of the Rockport section of the path via land acquisition from Rockport School. 

This will hopefully make this stretch much more accessible and follows on from upgrades undertaken over the last few years towards Holywood and from Bangor to Crawfordsburn Country Park.

These upgrades now mean that most of the path meets Sustrans standards. Many parts of the path can now safely accommodate pedestrians and cyclists thereby delivering a more attractive, healthier and Bicycle friendly Borough. 

I hope the path will be fully upgraded in the next few years and will continue to press for the last few more difficult sections to be brought up to the necessary standards.

Leading Change to secure future of Holywood’s Historic Buildings

Cllr Muir at 1 Stewart's Place, Holywood
I can report significant progress to secure the future of key Historic Buildings in Holywood which are at risk due to their current state of disrepair.

After being contacted by members of Holywood Conservation Group I have been working hard to save Stewarts Place near the Priory, Holywood and have now gained agreement from government to take action if the building isn’t repaired in the near future.

I can also report progress in relation to Cultra Railway Station House with both North Down Borough Council and NI Environment Agency taking action to ensure this historic building is secured and restored rather than being allowed to rot.

With the help of local Alliance representative and Conservation Architect Larry Thompson we have been Leading Change by helping to secure significant progress to Save Holywood’s Built Heritage. After being contacted by representatives from Holywood Conservation Group I contacted the NI Environment Agency (NIEA) and it now seems that NIEA are now pursuing the owner of Stewart’s Place with vigour.

A programme of works to repair the building was agreed at a site meeting a few weeks ago and, if not implemented, formal action will be considered. After recently exposing the fact that only two Urgent Works notices have been issued across the province in the last ten years I am pleasantly surprised to learn that NIEA are considering serving a Urgent Repairs Notice if the site owner doesn’t comply with the agreement reached concerning repairs.

We are very fortunate to have Holywood Conservation Group (HCG) within the Town. HCG are an extremely active and effective group who have been campaigning alongside Ulster Architectural Heritage Society to save Stewarts Place for many years. Without them the matter wouldn’t have been put on the agenda nor the progress achieved to date. More areas across Northern Ireland need such groups which shine a light on real issues of concern and undertake effective lobbying to save buildings before it’s too late.

Cultra Station House
Members of Holywood Conservation Group also recently contacted me concerned about the state of Cultra Railway Station with the building insecure and fast falling into disrepair. I quickly responded to these concerns with prompt action taken by both North Down Borough Council and the NI Environment Agency. Council officers liaised with the site owner and the building has now been secured.

As a result of lobbying by groups such as Holywood Conservation Group NIEA now also advise that a grant from the Historic Buildings Unit for re-development of Cultra Railway Station is active and the tender process will soon be complete. I welcome this news and look forward to seeing work commence soon to save Cultra Station House.

Speaking earlier last week, Alliance Holywood representative Larry Thompson stated “Protection of our Built Heritage not only makes areas more attractive but also helps create jobs and build strong communities with many listed buildings now providing Social Housing.

I therefore welcome the developments in relation to Stewarts Place and Cultra Railway Station and call upon NI Environment Agency to continue their positive constructive approach with regards to these and other buildings. Every £1 spent on Historic Building Grants delivers £4.7 elsewhere. Now is the time to invest in our past to create a strong economic future.”

Pollution in Twisel Burn River, Holywood

Pollution in Twisel Burn River

I condemn pollution of Twisel Burn River which occurred on Saturday (12 March 2011). The pollution incident involved chemicals being released which then resulted in a disgusting foam downstream near Holywood town centre.

A local resident living off Victoria Road , Holywood contacted me on Saturday supplying photos of the disgraceful pollution which occurred along this scenic river which runs under the well known Twisel Bridge , known locally as the Kissing Bridge.

I have reported the matter to the NI Environment Agency Pollution Hotline and have been informed by the Investigating Officer that work is ongoing to identify the cause and to prevent it happening again.

I have since been informed by other local residents that the pollution has previously occurred on weekends, with Sunday a popular day for the chemicals to be released into this scenic river. 

I condemn the culprits outright and hope government will be able to identify the offenders and take strong action to prevent further re-occurrences. 

Anyone who spots similar pollution should ring the Pollution Hotline without delay by telephoning Freephone 0800 80 70 60.

Feral cats problem at Redburn

Cats Protection will be in Firmount area of Redburn, Holywood from Thursday 10th March to help control the population of feral cats through the trap neuter and return programme.

I have been informed that many feral cats are now roaming in this area and am advised by Cats Protection that neutering is the only humane method in ensuring these numbers don’t grow even further.

This initiative won't cure the problem but will hopefully reduce the impact of the feral cats. As a local Councillor I felt it important to let people know about the initiative.

Residents in the area are asked to help Cats Protection by not feeding any cats other than their own in the next few weeks and if possible keep their cats in or ensure they wear a collar in case they enter a trap out of curiosity

This will help Cats Protection catch the correct cats and focus solely on the feral cats which need neutering.

Once neutered the cats will be returned to the Holywood hills near Firmount where they have lived for many years.

Working together with other interested people and bodies I will try and ensure some follow up after the trapping initiative to discuss and agree how to address the wider issue of feral cats in the long term.

Muir welcomes plans to stop sewage pollution at Kinnegar and across Bangor

Cllr Muir at Kinnegar Lagoons
I welcome NI Water's plans to stop sewage pollution along North Down coast and also at Kinnegar, Holywood. NI Water presented their investment plans to North Down Borough Council on Tuesday evening (8 March 2011) detailing how they intend to spend £10 million to upgrade Bangor 's water and sewage system over the next few years.

Contained within their plans is investment designed to reduce sewage overflows into Belfast Lough similar to those experienced last summer when I discovered raw sewage in the sea near Crawfordsburn and Helen's Bay beaches. This sewage had been pumped into the Lough from the small river near Carnalea Golf Club. 

I warmly welcome these investment plans after I highlighted the disgraceful pollution of Belfast Lough last summer with comprehensive action now planned to plug the problem at Carnalea and elsewhere.

Investment plans will involve upgrade of seven Sewage Pumping Stations plus upgrade or replacement of 20 combined sewer overflows with seven massive work packages taking place across Bangor . Work will also involve a new large tank at Bangor Marina to reduce the amount of raw sewage being pumped into Bangor Harbour.

In relation to the proposed works at Kinnegar, Holywood I was also encouraged to hear that NI Water plan to start work on the ground to eliminate the sewage pollution and odour problem at the Kinnegar Lagoons from Autumn 2011. 

After a relentless campaign I am glad to learn that my efforts to Lead Change has paid dividends with millions soon due to be pumped into Holywood's sewage system to reduce and hopefully eliminate the ongoing problem of sewage pollution and smell. 

The problem has continued for far too long and affects both the local environment, residents, commuters and people working nearby. I will continue to lobby NI Water until the pollution and pong is eliminated.

Brakes need put on Cycle Helmet Legislation

Proposed legislation to make it illegal to cycle without a helmet was presented to North Down Borough Council for opinion. 

I spoke against this legislation, outlining the following reasons also advocated by Sustrans why the brakes should be put on the Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill. 

I stated that the law would deter people from cycling and is a disproportionate response to the relatively low risks of cycling. 

Petition launched demanding end to blockade of King John's Highway Right of Way Path

You can now sign a petition online at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/kingjohnshighway/ calling for an end to the blockade of the King John's Highway Right of Way Path off Creighton's Green Road, Holywood.

You can also download a copy of the Petition in Adobe Acrobat PDF format to print off and get people to sign in person by clicking here.

Return completed petitions to Cllr Andrew Muir, c/o Town Hall, The Castle, BANGOR, BT20 4BT. Copies can be emailed in Word format and hard copies posted upon request, just contact me by telephoning 07813 945411 or email mail@andrewmuir.net 

The petition states: "We the undersigned demand that the obstructions blocking access to the King John's Highway Right of Way path are removed forthwith and urge all relevant statutory bodies to take all necessary actions to remove the blockage in order to ensure that future generations can safely enjoy this ancient Right of Way."

Muir opposes abolition of May Day Bank Holiday

Holywood May Pole

I call upon government to keep the May Day Bank Holiday after the UK Government outlined plans to abolish the holiday and create a new Bank Holiday on either Trafalgar Day in October or St George's Day and St David's Day in England and Wales .

May Day is a well established Bank Holiday. Events and festivities have been taking place across Northern Ireland on this day for many years including Belfast City Marathon and the Annual May Day Festival in Holywood town centre which attracts thousands every May Day. 

I understand that the Assembly will have the final say whether the bank holiday should be abolished and hope they will leave things unchanged. 

Government should be focused on helping businesses grow and encouraging more tourists to visit Northern Ireland rather than messing around with Bank Holidays and threatening the future of Holywood's May Day Festival.

Report should be catalyst for new approach to protect listed buildings

Cultra Station House
I hope the recent Audit Office report which highlighted failures concerning how government protects historic listed buildings will provide impetus for a step change to deliver better protection and conservation.

The Audit Office report shines a light on the lack of action from the NI Environment Agency to protect our built heritage. Whilst government agencies in other parts of Europe take strong action the Department of the Environment seems to prefer light touch regulation.

Last year I discovered that the Department for the Environment have only issued two Urgent Works Notices in the last ten years. With many listed buildings falling into disrepair across Northern Ireland it is scandalous that government only used these valuable powers twice in the last ten years to preserve our past to deliver a vibrant, bright future for neighbourhoods and town centre's across Northern Ireland.

I hope the Audit Office report will provide impetus for a step change in terms of how government protects and enhances our built heritage. As stated by UAHS the listed building grant generates £4.7 for every £1 invested. Looking after listed buildings not only enhances neighbourhoods and town centre's but also makes economic sense. 

In the meantime I will continue to campaign for action to save our heritage across North Down, leading change to preserve buildings such as Cultra Station House and Stewarts Place, Holywood.

Muir urges action to repair busy Holywood Road

I welcome news that the Roads Service are actively considering resurfacing Demense Road, Holywood. I have been lobbying the Roads Service to take action after receiving many complaints from local residents concerning the state of the road.

Following the recent cold spell the Demense Road has a lunar like surface. Pot holes are common place with tarmac falling apart and cars often swerving to avoid the pot holes.

After contacting the Roads Service I have been informed that surface defects have been noted and repairs will be carried out in the next few weeks. The carriageway resurfacing programme for 2011/12 is currently being prepared and consideration is being given to including Demense Road within this programme.

Whilst I welcome news that serious surface defects will soon be fixed, I call upon the Roads Service to include resurfacing Demense Road within their plans. 

People living, working or visiting Holywood should no longer have to travel across such poor road surface which is heavily used on a daily basis."

Ford launches Alliance Legislative Programme

The Alliance Party today announced our Legislative Programme for the next NI Assembly term 2011 to 2015. Alliance is the first party ever in Northern Ireland to publish a programme of this nature.

Party Leader David Ford MLA said: "Politics is about providing solutions, and that's why Alliance is launching our legislative programme today. Northern Ireland needs fresh ideas and strong leadership.

"We are the first party in Northern Ireland to ever publish specific plans for legislation for a future Assembly term. We are leading change.

"I believe that one of the essential ingredients to attracting investment and new jobs is stability in our political institutions. A key part of that stability is making it a duty of all Departments to co-operate and collaborate to meet general objectives. These could include promoting community safety and combating crime; promoting public health; working for sustainable development; and promoting a shared future.

"Alliance is also leading change in proposing a Shared and Integrated Education Bill. This legislation would deliver incentives to develop shared and integrated education. We have so much potential in this area to save precious public money and improve community relations.

"Alliance is also proposing a Bill to deliver more shared housing in Northern Ireland. Our vision is one of people living together, being educated together and working together, for the benefit of everyone here. Northern Ireland cannot afford to miss any more opportunities to transform our society to one that is shared on every level.

"We would also implement an Education and Skills Authority Bill. This bill is vitally important as it would establish the Education and Skills Authority that will replace the Education and Library Boards and other bodies. This body will save money through economies of scale and standardise school support across Northern Ireland. Other parties have failed to agree on this issue but we believe that this Bill presents an opportunity to reform our education system for the better and save £21million in its first two years.

"Look at the crisis which left tens of thousands of people without water over Christmas. We would create a NI Water Governance Bill to transform the organisation into a mutual company. The current status of NI Water as a government-owned company is not sustainable, and bringing NI Water back under the direct control of the Department would undermine efficiency drives and drain our Block Grant dry. In contrast the mutualisation of NI Water would enable investment to replace outdated infrastructure and help us deliver essential efficiencies.

"The same extreme weather conditions which caused the water crisis last year, left many people in Northern Ireland unable to leave homes because the vast majority of footpaths remained ungritted. The lack of clear guidance on gritting was disgraceful and Alliance will put forward a Bill to address the gaps in legislation to provide clarity and ensure this vital work is being carried out.

"Alliance is also leading change for a greener society. Northern Ireland is covered by the UK-wide Climate Change Act 2008. However, the legal framework in Northern Ireland is insufficient to effectively deliver upon the obligations arising from that Act. We would create a distinct Climate Change Bill for Northern Ireland. There is strong support from a cross-section of stakeholders on the benefits from clarity on climate change duties and responsibilities.

"Northern Ireland is seriously out of step with other parts of the EU in not having an independent Environmental Protection Agency, and as a consequence its environmental governance is not fit for purpose. Alliance would introduce a Bill to Create an Independent EPA. Northern Ireland has the potential to be a leader in sustainability.

"Alliance will create legislation to reform local government to deliver improved services and greater efficiency. Legislation is required to complete the delivery of the local government aspects of the Review of Public Administration. We want to deliver better, more joined-up government. Northern Ireland has too many politicians but not enough leaders! Potentially over £400m could be saved over the next 25 years if this important change to local government is delivered.

"This is our ambitious starting point as a programme for legislation in the new term. Alliance works, Alliance delivers and Alliance is leading change."

You will have your opportunity to elect for Dr Stephen Farry and Cllr Anne Wilson as Alliance Party MLAs in North Down committed to implementing this exciting Legislative Programme on 5 May 2011.

The document can be found at