Friday, 31 August 2012

Muir takes Kinnegar pollution problem to Europe

Sewage pollution at Kinnegar Lagoons is now so bad that I have been forced to take the problem to the European Parliament.
I have made the move after Holywood was left to suffer yet another smelly summer at the hands of Northern Ireland Water.
Fed up with the pollution and associated pong, I have arranged for an MEP to ask Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, what action the EU is taking to resolve the issue.
I am shocked to discover NI Water has shelved plans to fix the problem until 2013/14 - issues like the pollution at Kinnegar Lagoons proves the need for an Independent Environmental Protection Agency.
In August 2010 I was assured that Holywood would not have to ensure yet another smelly Summer but it's now clear that NI Water have been slow to stop the sewage smell which has been particularly bad in recent weeks. I have therefore arranged for an MEP to ask Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment if he is aware of the situation and what action the EU is taking.
Whilst awaiting a response from Commissioner Potočnik, I recently convened a meeting with Senior NI Water officials to find out why NI Water is prolonging the pollution problem. During my meeting I was shocked to discover that whilst a solution must be in place by 2015 due to regulatory requirements budgetary pressures meant that the scheme has been deferred until 2013/14 due to other competing priorities.
Whilst I am glad at the progress I have achieved to date including £100,000 to identify the cause and over £3.5m earmarked for a solution, implementation has been held up for far too long.
During my meeting I was also informed that bore hole soil samples are being taken to discover the extent of the pollution now caused and that more regular maintenance and de-silting of the Combined Sewer Overflows is taking place to reduce amount of raw sewage emptied into the Lagoons.
Whilst this work is welcome the impact has unfortunately been negligible and the full scheme is required without delay including closure of the Combined Sewer Overflows, a new Emergency Storage Tank and cleaning up the lagoons to remove the massive amounts of sewage which regularly causes the problematic pong. Planning Applications must be made as soon as possible to get things back on track. Local wildlife, residents, workers and commuters have suffered for far too long.
The entire situation proves yet again that an acceptable level of pollution exists in Northern Ireland. Without an Independent Environmental Protection Agency and strong enforcement action by the Department of the Environment, NI Water are able to drag their heels and continue pumping raw sewage into Kinnegar Lagoons. Alliance will continue to campaign for such an Agency despite the opposition of others.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Campaign to save Cultra Station ready to depart


North Down Alliance Councillor Larry Thompson has welcomed news that a secure future may be on the horizon for Cultra Station House.
Currently owned by Ireland's 'bad bank' NAMA, the old disused Railway building has fallen into disrepair in recent years and is now on sale for a fraction of its original value.
Alliance Councillors Larry Thompson and myself have continuously campaigned to save the local landmark - have recently learnt of a potential purchaser who, if successful, plans to restore the building, using it as a residential site.
Councillor Larry Thompson said: "Since becoming aware of the building's current plight I have been working with Councillor Andrew Muir, Holywood Conservation Group, local residents and others to save this historic building, which faces a bleak future if not saved soon.
In the last few weeks I was delighted to learn about the unconditional interest being shown by a potential purchaser who seeks to acquire and restore the building for residential use. A condition Survey has been commissioned and bid for purchase made despite the building's dilapidated state.
After reading the Condition Report, which outlined the dire state of the building, I was particularly pessimistic, but news from NAMA provides a glimmer of hope that the campaign to save Cultra Station House may soon be ready to depart."
Through my contacts at The Dail I have sought to expedite the sale and am glad to report that, despite initial problems, NAMA now report that a 'competitive sales process is being conducted' and parties are 'in further negotiations'.
I now understand that these negotiations are in a final stage and whilst I accept NAMAs statement that 'the final sale price will have to reflect independent assessment of market value' sale possibilities seem positive."
Cultra Station on 9th November 1957 Photo from Downpatrick and County Down Railway
Readers can keep up to date on the campaign by visiting Save Cultra Station House Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SaveCultraStationHouse.
Condition report
The Condition Report, conducted as part of the sales process, outlines some of the issues affecting the building after lead valleys and artificial slates were stolen and it was allowed to fall into its current state. The report makes the following conclusions;
Cultra Railway Station consists of a single storey station building and attached two storey stationmasters house located within a popular and much sought after part of Co. Down close to main arterial routes into Belfast City Centre.
The property is listed, however, it is evident that a large number of alterations have been carried out in the past which would likely not have been approved if the property was listed at the time the alterations were carried out namely the removal of the chimney stacks, the replacement of the original roof covering with artificial slates and the fitting of uPVC rainwater goods.
The property is in an extremely dilapidated condition with holes to the roof where lead has been stolen, dampness to chimneys due to a lack of lead trays, some movement to external walls, significant dry rot throughout the property, poor plaster, poor ceilings, significant dampness to walls, and dated services. The entire property will require complete gutting should any future use be considered.
It is the opinion of the author of this report that given the level of refurbishment necessary to the subject property for any future use following refurbishment it would likely prove more economically viable to demolish and rebuild the property. However due to the listed status of the building this is unlikely to be possible.
It is considered essential that the property remain fully secure due to the health and safety risk associated with the property where no balustrading exists, dry rot exists to first floor areas and where much asbestos appears to exist.
From 'A Letter From Ulster' supplied byDownpatrick and County Down Railway
Cultra Station House was built in 1897 assumed to be designed by G.P. Culverwell. The property is built in typical decorative red brick late Victorian fashion. The property consists of a listed building partially two storey and partially single storey positioned to the side of the railway tracks at Cultra. The two storey portion of the property was originally living accommodation for the station master and the single storey portion was the area for waiting, ticket collection and other areas associated with a railway station.
Property has been a private dwelling since at least 1937 and in private ownership since 1957, vacated 1970s when it fell into disrepair, vandalised and used for anti-social behaviour.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Muir welcomes Seapark traffic improvements

Seapark Railway Bridge from Google Maps
I welcome plans from the Roads Service to improve traffic flow at Seapark, Holywood.The Roads Service plan to introduce double yellow lines at the Seapark Railway Bridge following representations made by me on behalf of local residents.

Parking and traffic flow at Seapark has been a long running problem and whilst I am disappointed that the Roads Service do not plan to introduce more parking restrictions to enable easier access by residents the planned course of action at the Railway Bridge will remove a chronic bottle neck.

When the weather is warm or key sporting fixtures take place at the nearby pitches traffic can be particularly busy with some residents reporting difficulties getting in and out of their properties. Access to the A2 Bangor to Belfast Road is also difficult with no actions to relieve the problem promised by the Roads Service despite the clear dangers.

I will continue to campaign for a long term solution to the traffic troubles at Seapark and, in the knowledge that parking is the pressing problem, raise the issue of parking provision at the Seapark play park next month when Council resumes.




Sunday, 5 August 2012

Everybody applauds achievements of Bolt but racism still remains

The enormous interest in the London Olympics has not surprised anybody. With so many athletes competing in one place, I wonder how anybody could fail to be inspired by one of the greatest events in the world.

As a 10k road runner and member of North Down Athletics Club I have been waiting in anticipation to see the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt, compete in the 100m sprint and to see if he will again take home three Gold Olympic medals.

The achievements of Bolt has reminded many people of the another black man who 76 years ago took home Olympic Gold medals for a number of competitions including the 100m sprint.

Jesse Owens won a number of Olympic competitions for the USA at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and is remembered via The Jesse Owens Award, the highest honour awarded each year to the USA’s best track and field athlete.

Jesse’s achievements were both brilliant and poignant. Winning four Gold Olympic medals wasn’t unfortunately fully recognised by all.

Adolf Hitler was disappointed that the Ayran race had not succeeded, viewed his race as inferior and decreed that black people should be excluded from future Olympic games.

Jesse’s superior achievements were also demeaned closer to home when President Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to send him a congratulatory message. After returning to New York Jeese was also subjected to blatant racial discrimination when forced to travel by the freight elevator to his home coming reception at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The passenger lift was reserved for whites only.

So much has changed since 1936. An African American President now resides in the White House, racial discrimination previously experienced at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is now banned.

But yet more remains to be achieved. No longer should it be seen as acceptable for some people to criticise Usain for dating Lubica Slovak, a white woman from Slovakia.


Neither should it be right that according to a Life and Times Survey, 20% of people in Northern Ireland would object to a person from an ethnic minority background becoming a relative. Nor is it right that  a recent Equality Awareness survey in found that 13% of people here have a negative opinion towards Black and Minority Ethnic groups.

Much more work could be undertaken to completely eradicate any form of racism in Northern Ireland, but the track record of DUP and Sinn Fein isn't great. We still await the long overdue Race Relations Strategy whilst the need for a Single Equality Act seems to have been conveniently forgotten.


Leadership has also been lacking with Finance Minister Sammy Wilson once remarking that he wanted only Northern Irish people to get Northern Irish jobs and Euro MEP Martina Anderson previously stating that Catholic Migrant workers are causing workforce statistics concerning the Protestant Catholic balance to be  "artificially inflated".

As a firm and passionate supporter of a Shared Future, I want to see a meaningful Shared Future strategy that has challenging targets to cut out all form of racism. It's time the DUP and Sinn Fein stopped dragging their feet and reworked the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration document into something which delivers real change rather than warm words.

Whilst Alliance will continue to lead the debate concerning how we achieve a truly Shared Society  devoid of all forms of discrimination I would urge all readers enjoy the Olympics and Para-Olympics, reflect, stand up and speak out for sporting achievements and against intolerance on the pitch, the track, the pub or in the living room so we can all achieve the Olympics motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius - "Faster, Higher, Stronger".

Friday, 3 August 2012

Alliance Party Summer Fair to be held in Bangor

Some items at previous Summer Fair
Alliance Party in North Down have announced that they will be holding their Annual Summer Fair at the Marquis Hall (off Abbey Street), Castle Park, Bangor from 10am till lunchtime on Saturday 4 August 2012.

The event will feature the same range of popular stalls with items such as books and bric n brac on sale. The event will also include White Elephant stalls plus the opportunity to purchase a cup of tea or coffee and a tray bake. The event remains open to all with admission free of charge.

Commenting on the event, North Down Alliance Chair Neil Dickey remarked “The Alliance Summer Fair has always been a very popular event in local community. We will have a wide variety of stalls including plants, jewellery and toys. There will also be tombola and the famous bottle stall. I encourage everyone to come down for the morning to have some fun and hopefully pick up a bargain or two, cup of tea and tray bake"