Thursday, 22 November 2012

Muir champions Cycle Hire Schemes for Bangor & Holywood

Cllr Andrew Muir cycling in Holywood
I am delighted to have gained the support of North Down Borough Council to explore if Cycle Hire Schemes can be provided in Bangor and Holywood.* If ratified by Council next week officers will prepare a report on options, issues and costs associated with provision of Schemes in each town.

Cycling is quick, good for your health, the environment and increasingly popular. By providing opportunities for people to hire a bike in Bangor and Holywood for leisurely rides we will hopefully make North Down an even more attractive place to live, work and visit.

Whilst most users will not use the bikes to commute to work introducing Cycle Hire Schemes will give people the chance to try out the bicycle around North Down on the cycle paths and lanes already in place as a result of investment made by North Down Borough Council and the Roads Service with due respect given by all shared path users.

A number of towns have already rolled out cycle hire schemes with great success. I therefore hope that the report will be available shortly and prove that Cycle Hire Schemes in Bangor and Holywood are indeed viable. A variety of options exist which can be adapted to meet the needs of large and medium towns similar to Bangor and Holywood.

Earlier this year former Mayor of North Down Cllr James McKerrow and I visited Dublin and met the Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Andrew Montague. Cllr Montague pioneered the Dublin Bikes scheme which has been an enormous success with 95% of people feeling that dublinbikes has had a positive effect on the infrastructure of Dublin.

Dublin Bikes Scheme with Bicycle friendly
Borough Coordinator Mary Lappin
Inspired by stories of success from across Europe I am keen to continue championing cycling as a Councillor, Sustrans Cycling Ranger and Member of North Down Cycling Club putting the wheels in motion towards a Bicycle friendly Borough.

Following the success of similar schemes across Europe the Dublin Bikes Scheme was introduced in 2009 and has since proven extremely popular as one of the busiest bike share rental schemes in the world with 550 bicycles in use, over 4 million journeys taken to date and each bike used on average 10 times a day with extremely low levels of vandalism and abuse.

Dublin Bikes success has since been mirrored in London with 8,000 ‘Boris Bikes’ supplied by Serco facilitating over 17 million journeys whilst plans are now afoot to introduce another scheme in Belfast featuring 300 bikes and 30 docking stations after award of £700,000 funding by Department for Regional Development to Belfast City Council.

*Notice of Notice passed Tuesday 13 November 2012 for ratification by full Council on Tuesday 27 November 2012 - "That this Council welcomes the benefits of a Bicycle friendly Borough and requests that officers bring back a report on options, issues and costs associated with provision of public Cycle Hire Schemes in Bangor and Holywood."

Monday, 19 November 2012

Muir congratulates Holywood Athlete Paul Pollock after achieving NI 10km Champion status

After completing the Dublin Marathon a few weeks ago as first Irish man in a blistering 2hrs 16mins 33seconds Paul’s achievement at the Seeley Cup is yet another sign that Paul is now one of Northern Ireland’s Premier Athletes.

Paul completed the Podium 4 Sport Seeley Cup 10km Road Race on Saturday 17 November 2012 in an amazing 30minutes 40seconds thereby achieving Northern Ireland 10km Champion status. This is a massive achievement for Paul, his club (Annadale Striders), friends, family and Holywood. I wish him every success at future events in 2013.

Whilst I completed the race in a relatively mere 41mins 32seconds it was a great course with nearly 1,000 people taking part. Anyone inspired by Paul’s achievements and keen to try out running should consider joining one of their local Athletics Clubs for the necessary support and guidance to get you across the finish line. Details are available at www.athleticsni.org or locally at www.northdownac.co.uk

More information on Seeley Cup and
Paul's achievement at http://www.nirunning.co.uk/race-review

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Alliance Councillors Lead Change for Equal Marriage in North Down

Alliance Councillor Michael Bower raised the issue of Equal Civil Marriage at North Down Borough Council on Tuesday night this week, saying it was simply a matter of equality.
Alliance joined with the Green Party, with Councillor Bower receiving messages of support and encouragement from across the Borough, demonstrating the backing the issue has locally.

In September Alliance became the first main party to form a policy in favour of the introduction of same sex civil marriage. Passing with 80 percent support, the vote took place after months of consultation with party members and associations, led by Deputy Leader Naomi Long MP, and called for equal civil marriage with robust protection for faith groups.

In line with the Party's September ruling Councillor Michael Bower, Councillor Andrew Muir, Councillor Christine Bower, Councillor Larry Thompson and Councillor Anne Wilson all voted in favour of the motion.

Speaking in the chamber, Councillor Michael Bower said: "I am someone who values marriage, so why would I wish to exclude anyone who also wants to enter into such a union with the person they love. Who are we to place a hierarchy of importance on two individuals' love for each other?

"One of the arguments against extending civil marriage provision to same-sex couples is that it would be a 'Trojan horse' to forcing religious organisations to officiate over same-sex marriage ceremonies. This would simply not be the case.

"No church or religious organisation would be compelled to do so, no more than any is compelled to officiate over a ceremony involving a divorcee, a non-believer, or absolutely anyone for that matter. The motion clearly addresses these concerns. In fact, were any proposal be made to introduce a law which would force religious organisations to officiate over same-sex marriage ceremonies I would unambiguously oppose it. My commitment to equality in this instance is matched by my commitment to freedom of religion.

"But of course, freedom of religion works both ways and it is wrong, as is currently the case, that couples of same-sex in Northern Ireland cannot have a legal ceremony in a place of worship, even if the religious organisation consents to it.

"This proposal to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples effects no-one other than those couples who would now have the right to get married. It does not weaken my marriage or any other persons' and it saddens me to see people claim that it will lead to some breakdown in society and devastation across the land. This is sensationalistic language which does nothing other than to increase the sense of isolation and inequality that many people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender feel today.

"I want to stand up for them. To let them feel that they have a voice. To give them hope, that one day they will experience a Northern Ireland which is genuinely shared, and actually embraces and celebrates diversity.

Councillor Larry Thompson – the oldest male member of the Council – also spoke in favour of the motion, saying it was a human rights issue.

He added: "England, Scotland and Wales have already taken strides towards Equal Civil marriage and Northern Ireland is in danger of being left behind.  Society is changing and we must change with it."

As Chair of the meeting I do not speak in relation to the motion but voted in support.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Muir encourages public to respond to Dog By-laws consultation

Cllr Muir and friend's dog Josh on
North Down Coastal Path
I am encouraging the public to respond to the consultation concerning possible new by-laws affecting dog owners in North Down after securing an extension to the consultation deadline.

North Down Borough Council are seeking the views of the public concerning a number of proposals including possible requirement that dogs must be on a lead in certain areas such as the North Down Coastal Path.

With major concerns already expressed in relation to these proposals I feel that it’s vital that people have ample time to express their views. Council website should also be updated with contact details where feedback should be sent along with the full draft consultation document to ensure the consultation is a meaningful exercise.

I therefore proposed that the consultation deadline be extended from 15 November to 10 December 2012 at a Council meeting last Tuesday 6 November and am grateful to the other Councillors who agreed this proposal. Officers have also agreed to update the website with more information and details how to send feedback.

North Down Coastal Path and the beaches affected by the proposed Dog Control Orders are shared places for use by a variety of users whether they be pedestrians, dog walkers, cyclists, wheelchair users or runners. Safe enjoyment by all can be ensured by everyone showing common sense, respect and courtesy.

If this is not possible then By-Laws exist as an option to ensure safe use of the path and beaches but must be carefully structured to tackle the small minority of irresponsible dog walkers, cyclists, runners etc. Wide ranging overly restrictive and possibly unenforceable rules and bans should be avoided which, if implemented, could deny many people the opportunity to enjoy the jewels in North Down’s crown.

Whilst I do not want to judge the outcome of the public consultation it seems that Council would may be wise to re-think some of the controversial and rather draconian Dog Control Orders to ensure responsible dog owners are not unfairly punished. I recently walked along the Coastal Path with a much loved dog owned by a good friend and encountered many dogs on and off the lead none of which were behaving in a dangerous unruly manner.

This does not ignore the legitimate concerns expressed by some concerning the small number of dangerous dogs sometimes encountered off the lead or a small minority of cyclists who speed along the path in a wreckless manner. Leisurely cycles along recently upgraded sections of the path is permitted, dangerous cycling at speed is unsafe, wrong and should be condemned and forbidden. A wider review to prohibit dangerous and discourteous behaviour by all path users may therefore seem wise to address the legitimate fears and concerns expressed to date.

Readers seeking to find out more about the dog By-Laws can visit www.northdown.gov.uk and send their views to david.brown@northdown.gov.uk until 10 December 2012.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Alliance urges progress on Town Centre Residents Parking

North Down Alliance representatives have called upon the Department for Regional Development to end on-going delays and give a clear timescale for the introduction of Town Centre Residents Parking Permits in Bangor and Holywood.

The Alliance Councillors have made their call after conducting a survey in Bangor and Holywood Town Centres which demonstrated strong support for Residents Parking Permits schemes in areas blighted with parking difficulties.

Commenting on the issue, Alliance Councillor Michael Bower stated "With 97% of respondents calling for a Residents Parking Scheme in their street the demand for action is clear.

Many residents we spoke to recalled the practical difficulties being encountered without a parking permits scheme such as being unable to park close to their home and having to carry shopping extremely long distances. This is unacceptable and preventable. With government now encouraging Town Centre living urgent action is required to address this issue."

Continuing, I remarked "I am often contacted by people residing in Holywood Town Centre concerned about the parking situation in places such Trevor Street, Downshire Road and Spencer Street puzzled why no scheme has yet been introduced to let them park near their home and querying how much the permits will cost.

Whilst a mixed response was received concerning how much the fee should be (47% of respondents willing to pay a fee, 14% up to £30, 22% £30 to £60 and 53% feeling that no charge should be made) the clear opinion of those surveyed indicates that discounted permits should be available for the elderly and those in receipt of benefits with 74% supporting such. The previously proposed fee of £80 would clearly be unacceptable in light of the survey findings".

Commenting on when the permits should apply, Alliance Councillor Christine Bower stated "Whilst 86% of respondents want the scheme to apply All Week 58% want it in operation 24 hours a day and remaining opinion split between 8am to 6pm and 8am to 10pm."

Continuing, Stephen Farry MLA remarked "Although no strong desire seems to exist for a second permit per household with 73% against it is, however, recognised that some system should be in place to cater for visitors whether this be a permit per property (58% in favour) or a token book (21% in favour). We have written to the Minister for Regional Development to pass on all of our findings and hope he will give them due consideration.".

Concluding, Cllr Michael Bower stated "Whilst I recognise that the issue is not simple and straightforward on-going delays dating back to 2008 are unacceptable. A clear basis for action exists based upon sound research. We have therefore written to the Minister calling for an end to the dither, delay and indecision and a confirmed timescale for action".