Bangor to Belfast by Bike!

Sustrans Northern Ireland, the UK wide cycling and walking charity, "road-tested" a safe and pleasant and healthy way for commuters to travel from Bangor to Belfast avoiding the survival-of-the-fittest queue congestion that is the daily experience of most on the A2 Bangor to Belfast Road.

Instead, Sustrans' volunteers piloted a cycle ride to Belfast along the scenic North down coastal path via Crawfordsburn, Helen's Bay, Holywood and the Titanic Quarter - on Wednesday, 20 April, 2011 leaving at 6.30am from Bangor's McKee Clock meeting other commuters at 7.30 in Holywood. The cycle ride was supported by a number of local cycling interests and enthusiasts.

Sustrans Volunteer Rangers, Murdo Murray and myself, stated "The North Down Coastal Path is a marvelous natural resource for the residents of North Down. Currently, part of the path is suitable for joint walking and cycling use - from Bangor to Helen's Bay. The path after this can be cycled but not without physical barrier interruption.

The cycle ride has confirmed the possibility - and interest - in fully developing this whole route along the entire extent from Bangor to Holywood into a joint use walking and cycle "greenway". It is understood that North Down Borough Council is also supportive of this aspiration.

The commuters from North Down deserve a safer, healthier and altogether more pleasant way of travelling between Bangor and Belfast."

Following our successful Cycle to Work initiative we are hoping to establish the event as a regular occurrence, perhaps every fortnight. Anyone interested in taking part should contact me.

Muir delivers road improvements in Holywood

I welcome news that Demesne Road, Holywood will soon be resurfaced after I lobbied the Roads Service for action.

I am delighted to learn that the Roads Service intend to resurface this important route with preparatory work already underway.

Many local residents contacted me after the cold weather destroyed Demesne Road leaving the road with a lunar like surface. In response I lobbied the Roads Service on a number of occasions and am glad to report another example of how Alliance is Leading Change in Holywood.

This work will hopefully reduce the amount of problems which have occurred as a result of cars and cyclists often swerving to avoid pot holes along Holywood's worst road.

With Demense Road soon to be resurfaced my attention has now turned to Brook Street which many now consider to be Holywood's second worst road.

Photographs of the massive pot holes have been passed to the Roads Service along with a request that the pot holes are immediately dealt with and the road resurfaced.

This important link road needs repaired without delay, with a clean surface of tarmac well deserved so motorists can make their way around Holywood without worrying whether their cars will be damaged as a result of sub standard roads.

Muir welcomes planned improvements for Redburn Country Park

I welcome planned improvements at Redburn Country Park. The park can be accessed from the Old Holywood Road and includes a range of walks, with spectacular views across Belfast Lough for those who choose to walk to the top. The Park was previously part of the Dunville Family Estate and used to launch hot air balloons. It was also home to ‘Bruno’ the Bear and other wild animals.

A local resident recently contacted me concerned about the state of the park with paths currently in a bad state of repair, trail markings missing and much needed maps absent. In response I quickly made contact with the Park Warden and have been informed that work will commence soon to improve existing paths and the steps on “Rory’s Glen”. In addition to this a number of clearly marked trails will soon appear supported by maps at the park entrances to help guide people around the park.

I welcome this significant investment by the NI Environment Agency which will hopefully attract more visitors to Redburn Country Park and Holywood whilst also enabling people to lead healthy and more active lifestyles. The park is a real asset occupying a 100 hectare site with great woodland and amazing views possible for those who walk to the top. Visitors can also see the old bear pit where Bruno once lived.

A few years ago I visited the Kite Festival within the park and had the opportunity to fly my kite across Holywood. With increased visitor numbers on the horizon as a result of the planned improvements I hope events of this nature will again prove viable.

The Shared Future Test

If you want a Shared Future I recommend you have a look at the Shared Future test before you make up your mind how to vote on 5 May 2011. 

The Shared Future test contains ten points which Alliance support to build a new society based upon respect for difference and celebration of diversity.

Have a look at the test and see how the party you intend to support measures up.

Ten points are integrating education, mixed housing, shared space, tackling flags, removing 'peacewalls',  'No' to Assembly designations, tackling the cost of division, equality for all, a strong voice for community relations plus dealing with the legacy of the past.

Don't forget businesses during the election campaign

Over the last few weeks I, along with many other politicians, have been out and about knocking doors speaking to local residents and seeking their votes. 

During the election campaign I hope everyone’s views will be heard, including those of local businesses. Whilst businesses don’t have the same voting power as local residents it’s important that their needs are heard since without a vibrant economy local communities suffer.

Already I have heard some clear messages such as the need for a co-ordinated approach from government with decisions made quicker. Businesses also want better transport solutions for our Town Centres plus a greater focus on tackling division and building Shared Spaces to enable sustainable growth. I will continue to listen and work hard to implement some of the suggestions if elected on 5 May.

Muir demands fair deal for Holywood Tesco customers

It's time Holywood shoppers were able to cash in on a fair deal after discovering that Tesco charge much higher prices at their Holywood store compared to Tesco Knocknagoney.
When I checked the prices of a few basic items it was clear that, on average, Tesco Holywood is over 5% more expensive than Tesco Knocknagoney. With Tesco Knocknagoney only 2 miles away I find it scandalous that Tesco are charging shoppers £1.28 in Holywood and only £1 in Knocknagoney for 2 litres of milk. Tesco should address this inequality without delay. Whilst only 28p in the case of 2 litres of milk, every little helps.
Last year I exposed the fact that Holywood motorists were paying more with Tesco Springhill selling petrol cheaper than Tesco Knocknagoney. Now it appears Holywood shoppers are also getting a raw deal with groceries higher at their new Holywood store compared to Tesco Knocknagoney.
Tesco should end this price disparity without delay to ensure all their customers, including the many people living on low incomes without private transport, can enjoy the same bargains available down the road at Tesco Knocknagoney.
Prices checked at Tesco Holywood and Knocknagoney on Monday 21 March 2011. Goods priced were;
Loaf bread – Sunblest White 800g 89p at Holywood, Knocknagoney 69p
2 litre semi skimmed Tesco milk £1.28 at Holywood, Knocknagoney £1
Heinz Baked Beans 67p at Holywood, Knocknagoney 64p
Kellogg Corn Flakes 750g £2.57 at Holywood, Knocknagoney £2.47
4 tins of Draft Guinness 440ml £5.19 at Holywood, Knocknagoney £4.99

Portavo Reservoir access restrictions need reviewed

I recently became aware that the main gates into Portavo Reservoir have been secured by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. After contacting the Department I have been informed that this step has been taken to restrict access to DCAL Disabled Permit and Licence holders.

DCAL advise that "keys are allocated, on a first come first served basis, to anglers in receipt of a Concessionary Disabled Licence and Permit. You must state the following in applying for a key: Name, Address, Telephone contact number, Disabled Licence Number and Permit Number Applications for a key can be made to the Department  by post, by e-mail to dcalangling@dcalni.gov.uk or by telephoning 101"

I have asked that DCAL review their decision and they have agreed stating;

In recent years the Department has invested in excess of £60,000 to provide new facilities at Portavoe. This included the building of a special facility at Warren Road for disabled anglers with its own car park. The car park is primarily provided for disabled anglers but until recently members of the general public also had access. This generated complaints from anglers, many of them disabled. The complaints mainly relate to rubbish in the car park and surrounding area, dog fouling and misuse of the car park at night and weekends by non anglers. The Department considered these issues and decided to restrict access to the car park to disabled anglers only, which was the original intention in providing a car park. The Department will be undertaking a review of the policy and procedures on the issue of car park keys to disabled anglers and the implications on other anglers and this will involve the Department consulting with stakeholders.

I will keep readers up to date on the situation which my colleague Adam Harbinson is closely involved with. Commenting on the situation, Adam stated;
While the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) assure us that Portavoe Reservoir is open to the public, a padlocked barrier now restricts public access. 
When asked why there is a locked barrier at Portavoe the official DCAL response is, ‘A decision was made by the Management of Fisheries to lock the barrier from April 1st to ensure access to Portavoe Reservoir for disabled fishermen who have been issued with a key.’
The obvious questions are; how can locking a barrier ensure access for disabled fishermen? How many disabled fishermen are there? And if the purpose is to ensure car parking spaces for disabled fishermen, would not appropriate signage be as effective, less restrictive and less confusing? 
It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the hidden agenda is to discourage the public from availing of this beautiful resource. 
Why? Because it is a matter of public record that there is growing opposition to the sale of Portavoe. However, since the locked barrier will serve to restrict public access, the impression could be created that there is little public appetite for visiting the reservoir. It would therefore seem reasonable to assume that there will be no public outcry if and when it were to be transferred to private ownership.
I call on DCAL to unlock the barrier without delay. 
I am committed to do all in my power not only to keep Portavoe in public ownership, but to encourage the public to make full use of it for as long as is practicable.

Save Johnny the Jig

Larry Thompson
Holywood Council candidate Larry Thompson and I have been working to save Johnny the Jig and other historic buildings across Holywood.

We recently met senior officials from the NI Environment Agency along with Tony Merrick (representing Holywood Conservation Group) to discuss plans to delist many items across Holywood including Johnny the Jig, Cultra House, Comgall House at Camphill Glencraig and the old Post Office, High Street, Holywood.

Commenting after their meeting, Larry remarked: “I found the meeting extremely useful and a valuable opportunity to argue reasons why Johnny the Jig and other buildings shouldn’t be delisted. Johnny the Jig is an iconic statue by Rosamond Praeger, a well loved and respected local artist, which forms part of Holywood’s identity and should remain listed.

Cllr Andrew Muir
We were encouraged to hear that NIEA is willing to receive any proposals for listing of buildings. I therefore used the opportunity to make the case for possible listing of the Chemist located on the corner of Church Road and High Street, Holywood.

At the conclusion of our meeting it was made clear that no final decision has been taken concerning the delistings with people welcome to write to the Environment Agency to make their feelings known. I encourage everyone to take up this opportunity, working together we can save Johnny the Jig.”

Concluding, Larry stated “During the meeting we were therefore delighted to learn that a study has recently been commissioned to examine the economic benefits associated with our Built Heritage. I hope this study will help put protection of our Built Heritage further up the agenda and that government will listen to local feeling and abandon the plan to delist Johnny the Jig.”