Alliance continues Council campaign for openness and accountability

I am extremely disappointed that our new Council has yet again voted against increased openness and accountability after previously rejecting another Alliance proposal to widen Audio Recording of business to include Committee meetings. Council is already obliged to audio record full Council meetings as a result of an Alliance Amendment to the Local Government Act 2014.

This time, despite receiving a report from the Area Planning Manager recommending adoption of a Planning Protocol including electronic voting (which was outlined as the preferred option) Unionists on the new North Down and Ards Super Council have refused to even ascertain costs associated with an electronic voting system. The Planning Officers report detailed ‘Committee minutes should also record detailed voting, including which members voted for and against, those that abstained, and those members who elected to speak rather than vote.’

With new Planning powers being devolved to the Council from 1 April 2015 we must urgently ensure we have appropriate procedures in place to ensure planning decisions are made in an open, transparent and accountable manner. No longer can it be considered acceptable to have anonymous voting with Councillors raising their arm and no voting records retained on how individual Councillors voted on every application. The resolute resistance to change from some quarters is disappointing but not surprising.

As someone firmly committed to a new era of Local Government focused upon openness and accountability I am not deterred by this set back and intend to submit another proposal that to ensure all planning decisions are manually recorded votes with voting record of every Councillor on every Planning Application, Local Area Plan, Policy or Procedure recorded and retained for public review and scrutiny.

£4.5m project underway to tackle Kinnegar Lagoons environmental disaster

Cllr Muir with NI Water representatives
I welcome progress achieved by NI Water in dealing with the sewage pollution problem in Kinnegar area, Holywood. A £4.5million scheme recently commenced which will involve laying and tunnelling new sewers in the vicinity of the A2 Belfast / Bangor Road and Railway Line plus diversion of wastewater overflow discharges to new wastewater pumping station adjacent to the Kinnegar Wastewater Treatment Works, which will improve the overall sewerage infrastructure in the area, reducing the likelihood of odours.

After personally campaigning for over four years which has involved raising the matter with the European Commissioner for the Environment, meeting the Regional Development Minister, numerous Assembly questions and a formal complaint to the Environment Agency I am delighted to see funding awarded and construction work occurring in the area. The recent local public engagement event held by NI Water proved useful with more information on future plans outlined. With the overwhelming majority of work due to take place during 2015 all works should be complete by early 2016. NI Water will then focus on possible remedial work to address the serious pollution which has occurred within the Kinnegar Lagoons.

Whilst local people have endured the pollution and associated odours for far too long I am glad to see work commencing to address the environmental disaster which has occurred in the Kinnegar Lagoons. Recent reports indicate that interim work to stop tidal flows is allowing the lagoons to slowly return to their natural state. I look forward to seeing NI Water deliver further progress throughout 2015 as we strive to deliver a clean, green and healthy Holywood.

Muir welcomes North Down Coastal Path changes

After years of campaigning to reform our local by-laws which involved numerous representations to Council and successive Environment Ministers I welcome North Down Borough Council’s measured decision to ensure North Down Coastal Path is a shared route, facilitating a range of users in a responsible manner.

With a Code of Conduct, signage and only appropriate wider and upgraded sections designated for cycling a balanced approach has been found. Based upon respect, courtesy and enforcement of the rules the Coastal Path can remain a jewel in North Down’s crown. I support decision to allow leisurely cycling on the wider sections but a requirement for cyclists to dismount whilst using the more rugged and narrow sections and stipulation that cycling must not be at speed but instead at a leisurely pace. Health and Safety of all users must be paramount and whilst facilitating active lifestyles is vitally important use of bicycle bells and ban on use of motorised scooters or horses on the path is sensible and proportionate.

As someone who loves to run, cycle and walk it remains my aspiration to see the entire North Down Coastal Path upgraded from Groomsport to Belfast providing an amazing Greenway which has potential to boost tourism, improve health of many and provide a sustainable transport alternative between both locations.  Whilst this may involve constructing alternative routes to bypass the more narrow and ecologically rich areas the report provided by Council officers is comprehensive and useful as the new Council plans ahead in terms of investment opportunities. After bringing a previous proposal to obtain such a report I look forward to the new Council using it as a template to explore future improvements to improve North Down’s much loved Coastal Path.

Muir to take progressive politics into Westminster fight

As Mayor of North Down 2013/14 with, from left
Dr Stephen Farry MLA Alliance Minister for Employment
and Learning, Naomi Long MP Alliance Party Deputy Leader and
David Ford MLA, AllianceParty Leader and Justice Minister
I will contest the North Down Westminster seat for the Alliance Party next year, after being officially selected at a special meeting this month.

I will fight to gain the seat currently held by Independent Unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon as a Alliance Party Chair, local Councillor and former North Down Mayor offering a clear alternative to orange and green politics with the vision of a progressive, inclusive, prosperous future.

I am honoured to have been selected to take the Alliance Party’s unique message of a shared future to constituents across North Down.

During my year as Mayor I worked under the theme ‘Working as One’ and was delighted to meet and embrace many different groups and people from across the constituency. This won’t change as I hit the campaign trail ahead of next year’s general election, with my vision of a shared, integrated and inclusive society For Everyone to keep North Down moving forward.

The Alliance Party consistently puts building good community relations first and every decision taken – from our two Ministers through to our Councillors and activists – is put through the shared future test clearly demonstrating we are the party of leadership who do not shy away from difficult decisions, rather than a party of protest or party reliant on tribal prejudicial politics to garner votes.

I am proud to have made history as a Mayor who actively provided leadership For Everyone, especially as the first Mayor to attend a GAA Football match in the Borough and reaching out to many different groups – from welcoming the Orange Order to the Town Hall or actively embracing our rich Christian Heritage in advance of 1,400 Anniversary of St Columbanus death in 2015.

As a Councillor I have always made engaging with local communities a priority and fought to ensure their views were well represented. Over the past few years I have campaigned and secured over £4million to tackle the odour problem at Kinnegar Sewage in Holywood, saved Cultra Station House, increased cycling provision, founded Bangor park run and secured Council support to establish Bangor's first ever Culture Day.

I look forward to taking the Alliance message of a shared future free of intimidation and fear to the wider community across North Down.

North Down Alliance MLA Stephen Farry added: “I’m delighted to see Andrew selected to represent North Down. His diverse background and dedication to making North Down a shared, inclusive society makes him an ideal candidate to counter the tried and failed tribal politics of the past."

Crawfordsburn Waterfall Walk abandoned

© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence
During a recent visit to Crawfordsburn Country Park I was concerned to discover that that the picturesque Waterfall Walk remains inaccessible. I often run the marked 5k trail in the park but a few weeks ago decided to take a detour to view the waterfall. I was shocked to be met with barriers blocking access without any prior signage around the park advising users to consider the alternative route.

It's now apparent that the route has been abandoned by the NI Environment Agency since the bad winter in 2010 with no action since taken to re-establish full access. Rather than repairing the route it's been allowed to wash away into the river after further landslides.

I urge NI Environment Agency to erect signage promoting alternative access to the waterfall without any further delay and present some proposals to ensure Crawfordsburn Country Park's wonderful waterfall walk can yet again be opened up. Whilst work progresses to re-open the Gobbins Cliff Path it's disappointing and frustrating that Department for the Environment seems content to abandon another tourist attraction.

News that the Crawfordsburn Waterfall Walk has been abandoned was recently broken after I asked my Alliance colleague Kieran McCarthy MLA to ask a Written Assembly Question to the Environment Minister.

Kieran McCarthy asked "To ask the Minister of the Environment to detail (i) the length of time that the Waterfall Walk at Crawfordsburn Country Park has been inaccessible; and (ii) the timescale for repair." with Mark H Durkan MLA responding "I have been advised by officials in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which manages Crawfordsburn Country Park, that a 60 metre section of pathway leading to the waterfall has been closed to ensure public safety since 12 November 2010, following a landslide.

A timescale for completion of repair works cannot be provided at this time. Civil engineers were unable to assure NIEA that the path could be made safe for public use by a short term fix. A long-term solution to address the slope stability issues is required. Options for this are under consideration. However they are limited because a section of the unstable slope is not owned by my Department and any such works are likely to be costly and will be dependent on budget availability. 
Visitors to the Country Park can still access the waterfall via the path on the opposite bank of Crawford's Burn and enjoy 11 kilometres of paths within the Park."

Full Steam ahead for Cultra Railway Station Restoration

My Alliance colleague Councillor Larry Thompson and I have welcomed the decision by Planners to approve plans to restore the historic Cultra Railway Station building in Holywood.

Cllr Thompson and I at Cultra Rail Station
Councillor Thompson and I have been leading the campaign to Save Cultra Station along with other interested people and organisations such as Holywood Conservation Group. The campaign was formed in 2011 when the listed building fell into a perilous state and was put on the market by Ireland’s bad bank NAMA.

Commenting on the development, Councillor Thompson stated “After a long campaign I am delighted to see restoration of this amazing building on the right track. Cultra Station House was designed in the style of Charles Lanyon, built in circa 1863 and was listed in 2007 when threated with demolition. This unique building has long been on the Built Heritage at Risk Register but will hopefully soon be restored and rejuvenated as two apartments.  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.”

Cultra Station, Holywood
The planning approval was endorsed by North Down Borough Council on Tuesday 14 October 2014 and whilst I remain very disappointed planning approval took over sixteen months I am thankful to all those who helped us achieve this important milestone and for the patience of the developer. Whether it was Dominic Hannigan TD who helped secure sale by NAMA in late 2012, successive Environment Ministers Alex Attwood and Mark H Durkan or the many interested people and organisations, together we have delivered a success story to be proud of. With planning approval now granted we are finally all on-board and ready to travel forward at full steam towards restoration.

Muir reveals Kinnegar sewage work to get underway

Cllr Muir at polluted Kinnegar Lagoons
I can reveal that work will begin soon to tackle the on-going sewage pollution and odour problems in the Kinnegar area.

Work will begin on October 6, as part of an 18-month contract to tackle a number of problems in the area. I previously secured over £3m funding for NI Water to resolve the problem.

This is fantastic news for everyone living in the surrounding vicinity that is constantly plagued by odour problems.  The much-needed scheme is long overdue and the news that work is finally about to get underway will bring great relief for many.

I appreciate that NI water have in the past attempted to alleviate the problem by managing tidal flows and have had limited success.  With the odour frequently returning it is clear short-term solutions are no-longer enough to tackle this significant problem.

Holywood has some great open spaces for its residents
and visitors to enjoy, yet it is frustrating that often what could be a good experience is overshadowed by the foul smell.  I hope at the end of this latest round of work the problem will be permanently solved.

Muir urges prompt approval of Cultra Railway Station Restoration plans

I am urging the Department for the Environment to approve plans to restore old Cultra Railway Station with the Planning Application now delayed by 15 months due to bureaucratic red tape.

Late in 2012 Cultra Railway Station was given a lifeline when local man David Crowe purchased the building. The disused Railway building had been under the control of Ireland's 'bad bank' NAMA. Sale was made possible after a concerted campaign to Save Cultra Railway Station House involving Councillor Larry Thompson, myself, NI Environment Agency, Holywood Conservation Group, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, local residents, businesses and Dominic Hannigan TD.

Once purchase was completed plans were then submitted to restore and renovate the listed building in May 2013 but over a year later approval has still not been granted. Plans submitted involve much less housing density compared to previously approved plans which squeezed four apartments into the Railway Station building.

After lots of hard work I was thrilled to see the Planning Application submitted in May 2013 but 15 months later I am bitterly disappointed that the Department for the Environment have not yet approved the plans for restoration and renovation. Again and again new barriers emerge which the applicant has to navigate, often at considerable expense.

Last year it was a fear of ground contamination but after an expensive survey and meeting convened by me when Mayor this issue was eventually resolved. Then we had concerns about a wall and now, most recently, requirement to undertake a bat survey. With hundreds of pounds now spent to prove that bats will not be adversely impacted the application is still pending with no approval date on the horizon.

I am profoundly disappointed these issues were not raised shortly after the application was submitted. Instead of the application being promptly processed the applicant has experienced a slow drip feed of queries and delays which is entirely unacceptable.

I have written to the Environment Minister Mark H Durkan MLA and in his reply he details “I have asked my officials to expedite the processing of the application so that a decision can be reached as soon as possible”. This, I hope, means that Planning Service will soon get everything back on track with approval given in the next few weeks. We need to be proceeding full steam ahead without any more delays or risk that the entire application could hit the buffers.

In order to protect and preserve our Built Heritage we need an efficient and effective planning system that encourages and enables owners to easily refurbish and renovate listed buildings. Without such we risk losing some architectural gems in the midst of bureaucratic red tape. I therefore hope that lessons can be learnt from this series of unfortunate events and the application is approved very soon.

Cultra Station House was designed by renowned architect Charles Lanyon, built in circa 1863 and listed in 2007 when threatened with demolition.

Hard work pays off as Kindertransport Farm gets listed status

Kinderfarm / Ballyrolly House / Magills Farm
Picture courtesy of  Second World War in
Northern Ireland website
I am delighted that the Kindertransport Farm in Millisle has secured listed statusw, after leading a long campaign to ensure the historic site was properly protected.
Kindertransport Farm played an important part during the Second World War, giving much-needed shelter to Jewish refugee children escaping from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940, who would have otherwise probably perished in Nazi concentration and extermination camps.
I am delighted Kindertransport Farm has finally received the recognition it deserves and acquired listed status. Not only has one of Northern Ireland's key historic sites been saved for future generations, but the current owners will now be able to move forward with repairing and restoring the building under the Listed Building Grant-Aid Scheme if they so desire.
For the past two years I have been lobbying the Environment Minister to make this happen and as recently as a few months ago I again pressed him for a decision. Preserving this historic site has always been important to me, made greater last year when as Mayor I was able to meet Larry Kitzler, a local man associated with the farm during the Holocaust Memorial event I organised in January 2013 and local Pupil's from Millisle Primary School where Kindertransport Farm children attended back in 1930s and 40s.
After two-long years of fighting I was thrilled to receive notification confirming listed status for the property, proving that hard work and determination delivers.
Kindertransport Farm is closely linked to the Holocaust and Northern Ireland's own war history, especially the past it played in saving the lives of so many Jewish Children.
Anne Frank, arrested 70 years ago on 4 August 1944, once said "I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out." Listing of the farm provides us with an opportunity to learn from the past and build a new shared future where the spirit of Anne Frank and ideals of respect, inclusion and acceptance prevail without discrimination.

Muir welcomes Planning Permission for Kinnegar Sewage Works

I have welcomed recent decision by the Department for the Environment to grant Planning Permission for planned works to eliminate ongoing sewage pollution problem and associated odour in the Kinnegar area, Holywood.

Decision to approve the Planning Application was presented to North Down Borough Council on Tuesday 19 August 2014 and now enables NI Water to proceed with necessary works.

Despite repeated assurances from NI Water planned work at Kinnegar to address the sewage problems has yet to commence. Again and again we have been promised action but to date no work has started. Work was first due to commence in 2012 but two years later nothing has happened. I am therefore glad that the Planning Application has finally been approved after being submitted in May 2013.

With an NI Water official recently informing me that if Planning Permission is given "we will be a position to start work early next month" I look forward to seeing machinery on site to address this long running saga which I have campaigned on since becoming a Councillor in 2010, securing £100,000 to identify the cause in 2010 and then over £3million to rectify.

After raising issue with Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy MLA and NI Water officials everyone is aware of the importance of resolving the Kinnegar sewage pollution problem which Holywood residents have endured for far too long.

Bangor Culture success

I am profoundly grateful to the organisers of Bangor’s Open House Festival. Kieran Gilmore, Alison Gordon and many others associated with Open House have managed to organise a significant series of cultural events throughout the month of August which are creating a real positive atmosphere in a town yearning for change, revitalisation and a new sense of identity.

Last year I asked Council to support my request to establish a Culture Night in Bangor recognising the economic and social benefits derived and the success stories from other towns and cities across the UK and Ireland.

Council thankfully agreed to support my motion and with the commitment, passion and vision of Kieran, Alison, Council officers and others we now have an entire Culture Day planned on Saturday 23 August 2014. I hope many people will engage and enjoy the event which will feature live bands, street-art Busking, Open air tea dance, Open air stage, Record fair, Speciality street market, Craft bazaar and Creative Emporium, Campervan Jam and Street entertainment. Anyone wishing to get involved should email arts@northdown.gov.uk Full information on events taking place at http://www.openhousefestival.com/bangor-2014/bangor-culture-day.html 

With examples across Europe and beyond proving that open, diverse, accepting and culturally rich towns and cities thrive rather than merely survive it is my hope and passionate desire that the Open House Festival and Culture Day provide us with the springboard to revitalise Bangor and build a new prosperous town more and more people are proud to call home.

Muir congratulates McIlroy on another tremendous victory

I have congratulated local golfer Rory McIlroy on his victory in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio. Rory will return to the top of the golfing world ranking.

I would like to congratulate Rory on yet another tremendous and hard fought victory. Rory is undoubtedly the best golfer in the world at the moment following this trophy and his Open Championship win, and his return to the top of the world ranking surely proves this to be true.

Everybody in Holywood and Northern Ireland is immensely proud of what Rory has achieved at such a young age. He is an outstanding ambassador for Northern Ireland and his continued success, along with that of Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, is a major boost to brand NI.

I am sure that we will see more success from Rory and I would like to wish him all the best for the future.

Muir welcomes Redburn Country Park upgrades and events

Cllr Muir beside Redburn 5k Trail signage
I have welcomed range of events organised by NI Environment Agency for Love Parks Week which runs from 25 July to 3 August 2014 including Trails Day at Redburn Country Park, Holywood on Tuesday 29 July 2014 from 11am to 4pm which will showcase the new 5k Trail I secured after lobbying the Environment Minister.

After successfully lobbying the Environment Minister in 2013 to secure a 5k trail and £10,000 investment in Redburn Country Park I am delighted to see the new 5k Redburn Trail now being showcased this week. As a keen amateur athlete I am very aware of the lack of trails with steep inclines across Northern Ireland but know that when provided at, for example, Glenariff Forest Park, they are popular and useful places for training in preparation for the many road races across Northern Ireland.

Whilst the top loop track remains to be installed once wildlife situation permits in September all the signage is now in place and the route ready for use. I encourage people to have a try and consider the many other events also organised such as Crawfordsburn Country Park 5k on Wednesday 30 July 2014 evening at 7pm, On Yer Bike event also in Crawfordsburn Country Park on Thursday 31 July 10am to 4pm and the Kite Festival at Crawfordsburn Country Park on Saturday 2 August from 10.30am to 4pm.

Praise for Rory McIlroy’s fantastic victory

I am immensely proud of Rory McIlroy’s fantastic victory after the North Down golfer won the 2014 Open Championship.

This is another fantastic win for Rory, proving yet again his position as one of the best golfers in the world. 

With Royal Portrush set to host the Open in the next few years, Rory’s victory today puts Northern Ireland’s passion and talent for golfing on the map.  He has made everyone in North Down and Northern Ireland extremely proud – especially at his old clubhouse in Holywood.

Rory McIlroy truly is a great ambassador for Northern Ireland and we are all looking forward to following his career as his style, technique and flair continues to dominate golf tournaments in the future.

Nearly £13,000 raised for outgoing Mayor’s Charities

Cheque presentation with from left, Maria Kinney
(Camphill Communities), Glenn Aiken (Camphill
Communities), Cathy Cree (North Down YMCA),
David Seaton (Mark Pollock Trust), Barbara
Carson (Mark Pollock Trust, Mark Pollock's Mum),
Councillor Andrew Muir and Stuart Buchanan
(North Down YMCA)
I presented a large cheque on Monday 23 June 2014 for nearly £13,000 to my chosen charities when Mayor of North Down - Camphill Communities, North Down YMCA and the Mark Pollock Trust.

A range of events were organised over my Mayoral year in conjunction with the charities and Council staff including two Business Breakfast events, Antiques Valuation Fair, Golf Day at Bangor Golf Club sponsored by Barclays Bank, St Patrick's Day Musical Celebration, Charity Bag Pack, Raffle at Bangor Business Awards, Football Tournament and a Table Quiz.

Over my year as Mayor I sought to provide positive leadership with a focus on inclusivity, sport & creativity. My decision to support Camphill, YMCA and the Mark Pollock Trust reflected this desire with each organisation focused upon enabling every individual to reach their full potential regardless of age, disability, ethnicity or background.

Working as One we managed to raise the profile of each organisation whilst also raising funds to enable Camphill, YMCA and the Mark Pollock Trust to continue delivering their valuable services. Many thanks to everyone who donated funds and helped make such a successful outcome possible. I am truly grateful and confident that funds raised will help make a positive difference, delivering an enduring positive legacy from my year as Mayor

Three Charities to benefit from the sums raised will each receive over £4,300.

Commenting on sum raised Glenn Aiken from Camphill Communities stated "Camphill Communities NI have enjoyed the experience of working with the Mayor, particularly, when he was so hands-on, making mince pies in our café in Holywood. Also, our unique model of care for people with learning disabilities fitted well with his aim that each individual should be encouraged to reach their full potential. Many thanks to the Mayor from all at Camphill we thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated your support."

North Down YMCA has operating since 1979, is based in Queen's Parade, Bangor and as a faith-based voluntary organisation seeks to put the Christian faith into practice by empowering children, young people, families and communities to flourish in mind, body and spirit.  A spokesperson stated "Over the past year their staff and volunteers have supported over 800 individuals of all ages across North Down through their Youth Development, Healthy Living and Community Engagement programmes. Funds raised will help continue this vital work."

Remarking on the monies collected, Piers White from Mark Pollock Trust commented "At The Mark Pollock Trust we believe that the cure for spinal cord injuries simply requires enough of the right people having the will to make it happen. It is our mission to find and connect those people worldwide to fast-track a cure for paralysis. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Mayor for choosing Mark Pollock Trust as one of his Charities of the Year. The money raised will help enormously with our objectives and help fast-track a cure for this life changing injury."

North Down Schools overlooked again

Cllr Muir with Priory Integrated College Student Council
North Down Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker and I have highlighted our disappointment after schools across the area were again left out of the Education Minister’s latest investment plans.

Despite needing extensive new builds, Priory Integrated College, St Columbanus’ College and others such as Holywood Primary School were labelled not high priority and again missed from the Minister’s latest announcement.

Yet again Priory Integrated College and Holywood Primary School have been left on the backburner – despite in dire need of extensive refurbishment and new school builds.

This has been dragging on for far too long and parents, teachers and pupils deserve action.  The rebuild of Priory approved back in 2008 yet in 2014 still nothing has been achieved and a growing number of pupils are continuing to pass through tired, old buildings while officials get caught up in wider reviews.

Alliance will continue to promote integrated education as an essential part of build a shared and inclusive society for everyone

Councillor Gavin Walker added: “I am extremely disappointed St Columbanus’ College has not been included in the latest round of investment by the Education Department.  It has been waiting a long time for a new school build and absolutely deserves it.

“Whilst part of the Catholic maintained system, St Columbanus’ is a very mixed educator welcoming students from all backgrounds in the area.  The Minister must recognise the excellent work being done by everyone involved in the school to promote an inclusive learning experience for all students.”

Bike Week 2014 wheels into North Down

I am encouraging people to pursue pedal power and enjoy range of events organised in North Down during Bike Week 2014 after originally requesting that Council compile such a range of events for the week which runs from 14 to 22 June 2014. 

Examples across Europe prove that cycling friendly Towns and Cities are healthy and attractive plans to live and visit promoting sustainable travel, active minds and active bodies. I am therefore a keen supporter of cycling and was eager to ensure North Down Council put the wheels in motion and celebrate Bike Week 2014 with a range of diverse events.

Bike Week 2014 in North Down will be delivered by the Council in partnership with Bangor Aurora plus North Down Cycling Club, who I am proud to support as a Honorary Member. Events will include the traditional North Down Coastal Challenge on 15 June, 12 hours of Spin at Queen’s Leisure Complex, Holywood on 16 June, Sprocket Rockets Children’s Cycle Skills event at Bangor Aurora on 17 June.

A novice cycle ride in Ballyholme will also take place on Tuesday 17 June, 5k and 10k gym challenge with Aurora and Queen’s Leisure Complex from 14 – 22 June, Cycling Event in Castle Park on Thursday 19 June, a mass outdoor charity spin class on 21 June at Aurora and opportunity to win a mountain bike via a prize draw. Full details can be found at www.bangoraurora.com and www.northdowncc.com

I look forward to supporting the events as someone firmly committed to a Bicycle friendly Borough with a track record of pro-actively leading and delivering sustainable travel solutions and sporting events together with others in order to build a new inclusive, active and prosperous Borough for everyone.

Mayoral term positive year of progress

Many thanks to everyone who helped make my year as Mayor of North Down such a success. I am confident that one year after becoming Mayor I leave a better and more united Borough following a positive year of progress focussed on building an inclusive, active and prosperous Borough.

Promoting inclusivity daily, I adopted ‘Working as One’ as my theme for the year undertaking over 700 engagements – including work with those in need on Christmas day – raising over £13,000 for charities and promoting courageous civic leadership for everyone.

Among my many highlights was the introduction of the Bangor parkrun, sailing a Catamaran, having the opportunity to meet HRH Princess Anne and Irish President Michael D Higgins, securing Bangor’s very own Culture Night and seeing the first sod cut on the new SERC Performing Arts Centre.

Last year I promised and this year I have delivered a positive legacy for everyone. Bangor Castle Town Hall has been opened up with many groups and individuals welcomed to the historic building, from the Orange Order, Ethnic Minorities, Faith Groups, Youth Organisations, the Royal British Legion, local Army representatives, and many Charities such as Guide Dogs for the Blind and the MS Society.

The role has also allowed me to help build an active Borough representing North Down at the World Police and Fire Games and the official opening of Bangor Aurora. But most of all I’m proud to have established Bangor’s own 5k parkrun, which in a matter of weeks has grown to become the second biggest in Northern Ireland. I’ve led from the front, ran 10k races, participated in Open Water Swims, sailed on a catamaran and volunteered for our local food bank, St Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army.

Working for everyone across North Down led me on many new paths not yet travelled by previous Mayors and I’m proud to have been the first to speak at St Paul’s Gaelic Athletic Club Awards in Bangor and later attended a match in Holywood. I also forged a productive working relationship with Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir promoting local businesses to a global audience. Engaging fully on social media I also promoted North Down beyond the borough, highlighting North Down as a great place to live, visit, work or invest.

I also want to thank everyone who has helped me complete a successful year, including my Mum who often acted as Mayoress and the many people who supported my charities – North Down YMCA, Camphill Communities and Mark Pollock Trust.  Together we raised an unbelievable £13,000 for three fantastic groups that provide hope and inspiration to many.

But the hard work doesn’t stop now – there is still lots to be done and I’m looking forward to work getting underway on the new North Down and Ards Council.  This is a clear opportunity for a new beginning to work together and deliver better services for citizens and businesses across the area.

Throughout my year as Mayor I’ve promoted my vision of what a shared and inclusive society for everyone can look like. I am delighted to have achieved such a positive progress, transforming the role and providing inspiration to many. I look forward to the time ahead focused on a number of new projects which I hope to deliver with the same passion and energy that I possessed when I started one year ago.

Mayor welcomes local people from across the world to Town Hall

Mayor Muir with different people from
different countries along with
guest Mary Lappin 
I welcomed local people from across the world to Bangor Castle Town Hall on Monday 12 May 2014.

I was proud to extend the invitation and welcome local people from Poland, Russia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia & Hong Kong to our Town Hall as Mayor. I am delighted they have chosen North Down to be their home and stand with them as valued citizens of our Borough. 

I greatly appreciated each persons story about why they chose to live here and feel extremely grateful to have so many different people from different backgrounds living in our diverse Borough. I stand with them in the face of recent attacks and against hate and intolerance. Northern Ireland is changing and different people with different backgrounds help make us stronger, prosperous and a better place to live.

Mayor sails on catamaran to promote World Championships

As F18 Catamaran World Championships approach I am keen to help build awareness of the sport and the thrilling experience to be enjoyed. After a gentle start I was amazed to see how fast the boat can sail and found the experience truly exhilarating. Many thanks to all at Ballyholme Yacht Club who helped make my Catamaran experience possible and their ongoing commitment which helps make North Down Northern Ireland’s premier Maritime Destination.

Mayoral reception for Bangor Drama Club

I held a reception for Bangor Drama Club on Thursday 29 May 2014. During the formal reception in the Mayor’s Parlour ideas were exchanged on the future for Bangor Town Centre and positive role the club will hopefully play. 

The event ended with Mayor Muir committing to attend next performance on Friday 27 June 2014 of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder.

Mayoral welcome for Cats Protection League

Mayor Muir with Cats Protection
League representatives
I welcomed Cats Protection League staff and volunteers to Bangor Castle Town Hall on Thursday 22 May 2014.

I was delighted to pledge my support for the Cats Protection League and animal welfare by welcoming representatives to the Town Hall and signing up as a Cats Protection League supporter.

Mayoral support for MS Week

I provided support for MS Week by hosting local MS Society volunteers, staff and users at Bangor Castle on Wednesday 30 April 2014.

As someone who is close friends with someone who has MS and volunteers for the MS Society I am acutely aware of the key issues faced and the need for people to support the “Treat me Right” campaign. By providing appropriate support and access arrangements plus access to necessary drugs and treatment we can help create a society which cherishes and supports those with MS, enabling everyone to realise their full potential. I was therefore delighted to host the MS Society at the Town Hall and pledge my support for the “Treat me Right”. I look forward to supporting the Society and maybe running a 10k to raise some money for them after my Mayoral term ends.

Mayor Muir welcomes Polish Cultural Week Celebrations in Bangor

I supported Polish Cultural Week Celebrations by attending a event in Bangor at the Rabbit Rooms.

I was delighted to welcome Polish Cultural Week in North Down by attending the event in Bangor on Friday 2 May 2014. As Mayor of North Down I am working to create an open, welcome and inclusive Borough which values and accepts everyone, including those from outside Northern Ireland. Foreign Nationals help make us a diverse and prosperous Borough and I am delighted to see such a strong and vibrant Polish Community in North Down.

The event included short movies, a quiz and some Polish Cultural Entertainment.

Mayoral praise for "Mr Holywood"

From left, Holywood Residents Association Treasurer
Alan Andrews, Dennis Ogborn MBE and Holywood
Residents Association Chairperson Raymond Hall.
I joined others in praising Mr Dennis Ogborn who was recently recognised by Holywood Residents Association by the presentation of a commemorative bench at their Annual General Meeting which was held on Thursday 8 May 2014.

Dennis Ogborn has diligently served Holywood for many years serving on Holywood Residents Association from it’s early days until recent times and as a Councillor from 1989 to 2005. 

The level of commitment shown rightly resulted in Dennis receiving an MBE in 1996 and is widely regarded as Mr Holywood for the work undertaken to help Holywood win and retain on many occasions the Best Kept Town Title. I am delighted to see Dennis receive this commemorative bench and hope he enjoys it as he enjoys his retirement.

Alliance launches ambitious plan for Bangor Town Centre

Alliance Representatives from Left, Cllr Andrew Muir,
Nico Fell, Stuart Anderson and Gavin Walker launcing
10 Steps Forward for Bangor Town Centre Manifesto
Alliance has launched an ambitious plan for Bangor Town Centre, aiming to secure future investment opportunities, One Unified Plan for Bangor Town Centre and transforming the area into a cultural hub for everyone.

Launched ahead of the local government elections on May 22, the manifesto was developed as a coherent response to views received from residents, businesses and visitors alike – with the goal of taking the town centre to 2020 and beyond.

Showcasing how the Party is stepping forward for everyone in the local community, the impressive strategy includes plans for a business improvement district, opening up use of the old Court House for community use, progressing the public realm initiative.

Nico Fell, a representative for Bangor Central, said: “Alliance wants to see Bangor town centre fulfil its potential and believes it can be a business and cultural hub for everyone in North Down.

“By focussing on attracting investment and securing local businesses, we will ensure our high streets remain attractive places to visit and shop - and at the heart of this is the need to refurbish derelict buildings and revitalise vacant area, including Queens Parade through transparent, open and inclusive partnership process.

But there is also something extra we can offer.  By putting resources into the arts and local heritage we can create a cultural experience for everyone living and visiting the Bangor area.  By opening the old Court House up to the community and exploiting the full potential of SERC Performing Arts and Technology centre we have the facilities and ideas to deliver this.

“And with our plans for an annual cultural night Alliance already secured by Andrew will ensure Bangor becomes a community accessible to all.”

Holywood celebrates Maypole Refurbishment

Holywood celebrated the recent refurbishment of the Town’s historic Maypole on May Day by unveiling a commemorative cake thereby recreating a previous cake cutting event from yesteryear.

Local company Kenley Kakes kindly baked a beautiful cake complete with a Maypole which was then unveiled by me as Mayor alongside the May Queen and all the Maypole Dancers in the Maypole Bar which was first licensed in 1857 and has only ever had three proprietors.

With early maps showing a Maypole standing on it’s current site since the 1620’s I was delighted to take part in this event to celebrate recent refurbishment work with the iconic weather-vane re-appearing on top of the Maypole, as requested by Alderman Ellie McKay. May Day in Holywood is always a special day due to the range of events, stalls and activities taking place made extra special by the Maypole Dancing around Ireland’s only remaining Maypole.

I am truly grateful to Kenley Kakes for providing such an excellent cake which was admired by many. I look forward to enjoying the cake and admiring the newly refurbished Maypole which I hope remains for all to enjoy for many more years.

Whilst the wet weather might have dampened some runners Belfast Marathon experience it didn’t affect those dancing around Holywood's Maypole who endured the wet weather with a smile. It was great to see so many people enjoying the range of stalls, events and activities across the Town with the nearby Folk & Transport Museum also attracting large crowds as they celebrated the Folk Museum’s 50th Anniversary. I remain truly grateful to Holywood District Community Council for the work undertaken alongside Council officers to make the day a success, proving that by Working as One we can deliver a great experience for everyone. Thanks also to the May Queen and the May Pole dancers for helping to ensure another memorable May Day.

Mayor praises modern day Good Samaritans

Volunters at Bangor Castle Town Hall
I opened up the Town Hall on Thursday 24 April 2014 and welcomed volunteers from the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and Storehouse, the local foodbank to Bangor Castle to recognise the valuable contribution made.

After volunteering for all three organisations as Mayor over the Christmas period and supporting the Christmas Lunch initiative for those in need on Christmas Day at First Bangor Presbyterian Church I was delighted the welcome the volunteers to the Town Hall. The level of commitment given by the many volunteers is amazing and deserving of the highest recognition. We are honoured and privileged to have so many modern day Good Samaritans in our local community showing the Christian faith in action by reaching out and support those in need.

After refreshments and a short speech praising the volunteers work I then facilitated a talk and tour of the historic building.

Mayor participates in historic Irish State Visit

Mayor Muir with President Higgins at a previous event
I participated in the historic Irish State Visit to the UK by attending the performance of Ceiliúradh at the Royal Albert Hall in the presence of President Michael D Higgins, The Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, former Prime Minister Sir John Major plus the First and deputy First Ministers Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA and Mr Martin McGuinness MLA plus the Lord Lieutenant Dame Mary Peters.

I was greatly honoured and proud to have the opportunity to participate in the historic Irish State visit to the UK. Following the momentous State Visit to Ireland by Her Majesty The Queen this visit has helped move us forward to a new era in Anglo Irish relations. Our Shared and Diverse histories can now again be explored and enjoyed with differing identities, cultures and views celebrated and embraced.

Muir delivers extra staff to tackle Holywood Dog Fouling problem

I have led the way in tackling the on-going dog fouling problem in the Holywood area, securing an additional member of Council staff to focus directly on the issue.
After months of campaigning I have welcomed the local authority’s decision to employ a part-time member of staff.
I worked directly to resolve the issue with Council staff, after discovering FIDO – a dog fouling removal vehicle – is regularly out of action and unavailable to be used in Holywood, leaving dirt strewn across footpaths.
After receiving numerous calls from concerned constituents, and witnessing the notorious problem myself, I started to make enquiries as to why the situation had become so bad.
I quickly discovered FIDO is prone to being unwell, often in the kennels for repair and regularly impounded due to mechanical malfunctions.  As these problems appeared to be on-going, I was keen to achieve a resolution and effectively used the budget setting process to secure an extra member of staff who will be primarily employed to remove dog fouling from the streets of Holywood.
Rather than purchasing another potentially unreliable machine an extra pair of hands has now been secured.  The part time member of staff will start soon.
Alliance Holywood representative Kate Nicholl added:  “When it comes to clearing the streets of dog fouling, detection and enforcement is the key.  The majority of dog owners are responsible, but it is the minority that leave mess behind who are destroying the comfort of many when out walking in Holywood.
“It can be difficult to detect offenders and I would urge anyone who sees a dog owner being irresponsible when it comes to cleaning up after their pet to register a complaint with North Down Borough Council, raising awareness of problem areas.  Along with my colleague Councillor Andrew Muir, I will be continuing to monitor this situation in coming months.”

Mayoral praise for Bangor Central Integrated Primary School

I welcomed Teachers and Staff from Bangor Central Integrated Primary School to Bangor Castle Town Hall on Wednesday 9 April 2014 to praise the work undertaken at the school.

Principal Peter Campbell led the delegation who enjoyed a historic tour of the building and a strong speech in support of the school and Integrated Education by Mayor Muir.

As someone passionately committed to enabling young people to develop in an inclusive environment, learning, playing and growing up together I am delighted to see Bangor Central Integrated Primary School sustain such a strong enrolment.

I enjoyed providing a practical demonstration of my support for the school by providing a formal Mayoral reception and hope Council will soon be able to finally resolve issues with South Eastern Education and Library Board to facilitate redevelopment of the school site. By strengthening the school estate we can together ensure that children attending Bangor Central Integrated Primary School enjoy the highest quality learning environment.

Muir says Kinnegar Sewage works are long overdue

I have questioned NI Water after the company admitted it had fallen behind schedule in planned improvement works for the Kinnegar area.

A contractor was due to be appointed in November last year in an attempt to end on-going sewage problems for good, with Lagoon Remediation taking place shortly after.

But in correspondence with me, NI Water has now admitted the work is behind schedule with the announcement of a contractor now expected to take place in May.

It is disappointing that NI Water has fallen behind schedule on the Kinnegar improvement works.  Local residents and commuters have been living with these disgusting odours for far too long and the completion of the promised work must be an immediate priority.

I welcome NI Water’s attempts to alleviate the sewage problem, including raising the outlet weir of the lagoons, which seems to have reduced odour complaints significantly.  However these short-term solutions are not good enough and with only mask the overlying problem for so long.

Alliance activist Kate Nicholl added: “As a Holywood resident I am tired of not being able to enjoy the town’s open spaces or being able to open the windows of my home with confidence.  I look forward to the contractor being named and work getting underway later this year."