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.