Muir welcomes Kinnegar Sewage Works progress

Councillor Muir at Kinnegar Lagoons
I welcome progress achieved to end the sewage pollution problem at Kinnegar Lagoons, Holywood. In a recent update from NI Water it was confirmed that £4.5 million scheme is still due to be completed by Summer 2016.

After relentless lobbying since 2010 I am glad to see construction work continuing as per timescale. For far too long people living, working, visiting or travelling past Holywood have had to endure awful odour as a result of chronic pollution permitted by NI Water into the scenic Kinnegar Lagoons. Following numerous meetings with NI Water, lobbying of the Regional Development Minister, a formal complaint to both the NI Environment Agency and the European Commissioner for the Environment I was delighted to see £4.5million awarded to address the pollution problem and construction work commencing in 2015.

With the construction project involving tunnelling underneath the busy A2 Bangor to Belfast Dual Carriageway and Railway Line plus past a major gas pipeline I am glad to see work continuing apace and the challenges in relation to the gas pipeline outlined and being addressed to ensure project completion as planned in Summer 2016.

Following completion of the construction works the focus must then turn to remedial work to return Kinnegar Lagoons back to the environmental haven once enjoyed by wildlife until the pollution occurred. I look forward to working with NI Water to bring the entire project to completion after a long but yet determined campaign which will hopefully improve the environment for future generations.

Save Cairn Wood Forest Petition

Sign the Petition to Save Cairn Wood Forest calling upon the Minister for Regional Development Michelle McIlveen MLA to instruct NI Water to remove it from sale and leave it within public hands by visiting link below.


Campaign steps up to save Cairn Wood Forest

I've stepped up the campaign to save North Down's Cairn Wood Forest, after it was discovered NI Water had placed the popular environmental asset up for sale along with Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir.
I have submitted a motion for debate at Ards and North Down Borough Council next Thursday 17 December 2015, requesting the Council urgently writes to the Minister for Regional Development requesting Cairn Wood is removed from the sale and launched an online petition, giving local people a forum to express their opposition to the move.
It is extremely disappointing that despite the growing public outrage in response to NI Water's plans to sell Cairn Wood, nothing has changed and North Down still risks losing part of a popular environmental asset.
It is essential that Cairn Wood is removed from the sale and left within public hands, open for public use on the same basis as enjoyed by many over previous decades.
I have also started a Petition giving local people a forum to express their opposition to this disgraceful move at https://www.change.org/p/minister-for-regional-development-minister-for-regional-development-michelle-mcilveen-mla-save-cairn-wood-forest 
My colleagues at the NI Assembly have also tabled questions for answer and seeking that bring Ministers to account including both the Minister for Regional Development, who oversees NI Water, and Minister for Agriculture, who oversees the Forestry Service.
With a previous Freedom of Information request detailing that NI Water may not have the right to sell Cairn Wood Forest due to 150 year lease signed by previous owners Bangor Borough Council in 1964, I am now also seeking legal opinion whether NI Water have the right to proceed with their shameful plan to sell the Forest which must be halted without delay.
Email correspondence previously obtained clearly indicates that the sale of Cairn Wood would be inhibited due to the lease with the strategy in 2010 : 'End result if it all works out - The land that is forested stays with Forestry no expense to NI Water and no liability, You get rid of at least one of the reservoirs, NI Water takes in some money.

Muir calls for Council to grow Allotment provision

Popular Ards Allotments on the
Comber Road, whilst other areas few
or now Allotment provision
I have started a campaign for greater allotment provision across the new Ards and North Down Council Borough.
Highlighting the issue at a recent Council Committee meeting, I outlined that allotments are not only good for an individual’s mental and physical health, but, if tended correctly, could help local people save money of their weekly supermarket shop.
As our town continues to develop, allotments provide a much needed green space for many to enjoy. For example, whilst Bangor is Northern Ireland's largest Town accommodating over 59,000 people, limited allotment provision exists denying many people living in premises with small or no gardens the opportunity to grow their own. Newtownards, meanwhile, has Ards Allotments on the Comber Road providing plots for local people to enjoy with a vibrant community atmosphere as I witnessed a few weeks ago during their Open Day Event.
There are so many benefits to tending an allotment. Not only is it great exercise and can help boost your exposure to the Sun, but through time spent they can also help reduce a households expenditure.
But looking beyond the benefits to ourselves, allotments are also essential in helping local wildlife grow and develop. In cultivating an allotment you are helping to keep biodiversity levels buoyant and continually protecting out eco system.
I’m delighted other Councillors were able to get behind my proposal and look forward to the report that comes back from Council staff as we begin to move forward in increasing allotment provision across the borough.

Town Centre's deserve better from government

North Down Alliance Councillors have slammed what they describe as a "shambolic approach" adopted by government departments concerning Public Realm schemes in Bangor, Holywood and Donaghadee.

With the schemes now coming to an end Departments for Social and Regional Development are each responsible for follow on actions such as roads resurfacing and funding to help traders recover after the significant disruption endured.

Department for Regional Development have refused to fund vital road resurfacing schemes in each town whilst the Department for Social Development have only offered a small pot of Revitalisation Funding at the last minute rather than the required funds to boost trade in each town following the disruption occurred.

Commenting on matters, North Down Alliance Councillor Andrew Muir stated "Rather than a joined up strategic approach we are witnessing abdication of responsibility, buck passing and a mediocre response which is endangering the long term benefits of the multi million pound Public Realm schemes. With new pavements, street lights, benches, public art and other elements now in place as part of the Public Realm schemes the Department for Regional Development should be coming forward with necessary road resurfacing schemes to compliment the high quality foot paths.

“Instead we are being told that current worn road surfaces will have to do despite having been dug up and in need of resurfacing after years of use. I have already written to Transport NI requesting action but with no success and will therefore raise the issue with the new DUP Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA in the hope that sense will prevail."

Master Plan delivery jeopardised

After months of disruption, funding to help traders get back on their feet has also been cut and offered to businesses with only a few days to respond. Alliance Councillor and Donaghadee Steering Group Chair, Gavin Walker said" The decision by Mervyn Storey DUP Minister of Regional Development to postpone the transfer of regeneration powers to Councils has placed the delivery of ambitious and exciting Master Plans in jeopardy. The recently completed Public Realm work was to be the start of a period of development for our towns – not be an end in themselves.

“The Minister has made this decision despite the promise of the transfer of Regeneration powers to Council as an integral part of the Reform of Local Government. So his statement that ‘now is not the right time to go ahead with the transfer of these key DSD functions to councils,’ is both disingenuous and a body-blow to the Steering Groups which have been preparing to deliver many of the exciting aspects of the Master Plans.

“Our hopes to create an outstanding tourism destination in Donaghadee with the creation of the Commons Coastal Path and Crommelin Eco Park have been unnecessarily put into jeopardy with us being left floundering after this incredible last-minute moving of the goalposts by the Minister.

“If we are to have any hope of delivering even small parts of the Master Plans we need to have more funding with a more strategic approach rather than a small pot now and no guarantee of anything in the future. I have raised my concern with DSD officials and will be writing to the Minister on behalf of the residents of Donaghadee to express my disappointment in the strongest terms.”

Future of popular Cairn Wood in doubt as on sale to private owners by NI Water

I am shocked to learn that Northern Ireland Water plan to sell a significant portion of the Cairn Wood Forest to the highest bidder with future public access now in doubt.

With woodland cover in Northern Ireland the lowest of any European country (with the exception of Iceland) at 6% we need to be increasing our woodland cover to meet 12% target in 2050 not selling forests to private purchasers. Retaining our forests, and public access arrangements is of paramount importance due to the social, economic and environmental benefits that arise with Cairn Wood an habitat haven enjoyed by many people on a regular basis.

From a previous Freedom of Information request, I was thankfully able to ascertain that the Forests adjoining Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir are operated under a 150 year lease with the Forest Service. Signed in 1964 by Bangor Borough Council, the actions of Northern Ireland Water run contrary to the commitments given by the previous owner (Bangor Borough Council) and are a concerning development. I am appalled that NI Water have decided to embark upon this course of action which is a gross breach of trust after being transferred ownership in the 1970s. NI Water could, however, have overlooked this commitment and if, so, need to apologise and withdraw the land for sale forthwith.

I have written to both the Agriculture and Regional Development Ministers requesting decision to sell this woodland is reversed and hope an urgent reply will be received.

If not, I will again ask the Council to consider exploring opportunities to save the land from falling into private ownership. My original proposal to Ards and North Down Borough Council that a scoping exercise be undertaken via means of an Economic Appraisal, when offered these Reservoirs for sale would have helped identify this issue and explore way to save valuable woodland but sadly it was rejected with expression of interest given for merely two of the reservoirs offered.

More vital changes on way for coastal path

I welcome plans to further develop the North Down Coastal Path. Ards and North Down Borough Council recently agreed to search for funding opportunities to overhaul the latest section of the coastal path – with a new path on the seaward side of the seawall a possibility bypassing the private road and securing the deteriorating seawall.

The coastal path is a vital asset to our beautiful borough and one that we must ensure we make the most of.

In recent years I have successfully lobbied to ensure vital changes were made to the coastal path, allowing for greater access and to benefit all users such as the new section bypassing old Seahill steps.

While North Down is already well-known as a beautiful scenic spot for tourists, there is always more we can do as a borough to attract a greater number of visitors each year. Without action this vital Coastal Path link risks being irreparably damaged by the ravages of the sea.

Alliance is committed to making North Down a better, healthier place to live, work or visit and I would urge all Councillors to get behind these plans.  Hopefully through co-operation we can see the coastal path developed even further, encouraging many more to enjoy it.

Bangor Park could get Green Flag status

Bangor’s Castle Park could soon see it receive Green Flag status.  The national award for public and community parks and greenspaces, the Green Flag award scheme recognises and rewards the best green spaces across the country.

I previously asked that Green Flag status be explored for Ward Park, but with Unionists voting against the idea, the initiative was abandoned.

I’m delighted that an issue I have worked hard to bring to the attention of others has finally been recognised by the new Ards and North Down Council.

Castle Park deserves this award, with many working together to ensure the park remains an area of natural beauty.

We must do everything we can to protect our environment and I hope that when this comes before the Council again, no-one will stand in the way letting this process proceed.

I hope we will see Castle Park join Kiltonga Nature Reserve in gaining Green Flag status.  Now is the time to invest in our environment, creating a green economy that will benefit the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland.

Refurbishment on the horizon for Glenlyon Park, Holywood

Holywood’s Glenlyon Park is set for major refurbishment works this winter. 
Having raised concerns a number of times in recent years, I am delighted the park’s current state of disrepair is finally going to be addressed.  The move will also address on-going anti-social behaviour in the area.
Glenlyon Park is a vital resource and a much enjoyed public space in the Holywood area.
However over the past few years this once Scenic Park has become a shadow of its former self, with wildlife dwindling and paths overgrown with untamed shrubbery, along with an increase in anti-social behaviour.
The planned works will include the removal of unnative species and plants, to be replaced by native, locally sourced foliage and I want to thank the local conservation volunteers who have pledged to help with the project.  Overall we will see greater diversity in the park, with the addition of many new species set to make the area a much more interesting park to visit.
I am passionate about creating a clean and green borough, with a range of open spaces available for shared activities and enjoyment.  I’m delighted the Council has listened to my concerns and am hopeful that Glenlyon Park will be returned to its former glory.

Celebrating Rory McIlroy's achievements

Golf Champion Rory McIIroy could see his major achievements permanently celebrated in Holywood, if plans get the go-ahead.

I recently secured support from the relevant Ards and North Down Borough Council Committee calling for officers to investigate the possibility of a permanent recognition of the golfing star in liaison with his Management Company.

Rory McIIroy is a fantastic role-model for the next generation across Northern Ireland – proving that if you dream big and work hard you can achieve great success.

Rory has been at the top of his game for a number of years now, but while he is travelling the world Holywood will always be his home.  I believe it is a fitting tribute for his home town to celebrate his achievements in whatever manner considered appropiate.

This motion calls on Council officers to look at the different options available and engage with his Management Company to establish what is desired.

At a time when Northern Ireland continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, we must recognise the positive headlines Rory McIIroy makes every time he picks up his clubs.

Official Opening of SERC SPACE welcomed

Minister for Employment and Learning
Dr Stephen Farry MLA and I at
Official Opening of SPACE in Bangor
I joined Alliance Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry MLA in Bangor on Tuesday, as a new £12 million arts facility at the town's South Eastern Regional College (SERC).

A state of the art facility, SPACE - Serc Performing Arts, Computing and Engineering - will not only equip students with specialised skills, but is also set to open Bangor up to Northern Ireland's growing film industry.
I was delighted to join Minister Farry in Bangor as he opened this campus. A fantastic addition to the growing Further Education (FE) estate, SPACE will be an asset to the college and local community alike for years to come.
As an elected representative for North Down, I am aware of the historic need for improved theatrical and performing arts facilities in the area. With this new theatre and auditorium available to both students and the wider community for use, this project will only help address this need - further developing a growing, vibrant arts scene across the constituency.
But it is not only through the arts sector that SPACE will have an impact locally. With the facilities to develop the next generation of skilled engineers and build on new technological advancements, Bangor's local economy will play a direct role in building a strong economic future for Northern Ireland.
I would encourage local residents to come along and check out what's available at SPACE. As a local resident and elected representative I'm looking forward to working with both the college and community and I'm confident that together the full potential of this new facility will be utilised.
Back in September 2013 I joined Minister Farry and SERC Principal Ken Webb to launch plans for SPACE. With the work completed on time, I'm delighted to again join him - this time unveiling the finished product.
Launching plans in September 2013
Locally Alliance is committed to building a creative, innovative, skills rich borough and SPACE will go a long way in helping turn these aspirations into a reality.
This initiative is also set to showcase the benefits that come from enabling people across all sectors to work together to grow our economy. I look forward to being part of this process and would encourage everyone across North Down to support SPACE how they can.

Muir welcomes Council’s e-car pledge

I am delighted to see Ards and North Down Council make a commitment to electric cars. The Council recently backed plans to put its support for e-cars down on paper by signing up to the electronic vehicle charter.
With low emissions, electronic cars are an excellent and effective way to get around while protecting the environment.
By drafting its own charter, Ards and North Down Council is sending out the message that we car and that we want to be part of the growing movement geared towards a cleaner, healthier way of life.
This also could signal more charging points across the area, with the Council set to use an electric pool car if funding from the UK government is successful.
Alliance is an environmentalist party and we firmly believe that climate change is happening, directly at the hand of humanity. It gives me great delight to welcome a greater support for the e-car, but we must ensure this initiative is followed through.

Muir welcomes restoration of war memorials

Plans by Ards and North Down Borough Council to restore the war memorials across the Borough are a 'fitting tribute' to those who laid down their lives, ahead of the 2018 anniversary of the ending of World War 1.
Ards and North Down Borough Council have agreed a £20,000 project that will see the 11 local war memorials refurbished, with work including new memorial plagues, new seating close by and boundary railings and walls replaced appropriately.
I'm delighted to see the Council taking significant steps to ensure all local war memorials are restored ahead of the 2018 anniversary.
Protecting local war memorials from vandalism and theft has been an issue I have worked tirelessly on and previously I secured funding from the War Memorials Trust to enhance security for local memorials.
A great many men from across Ards and North Down gave their lives during World War 1 and it is only right that 100 years on we recognise and respect the sacrifice they made.
I will be monitoring progress on this project to ensure everything runs on schedule - estimated to take 18 months to complete, we cannot afford to fall behind.

Summer of Silence over flags of fear

The following letter appeared in the County Down Spectator on Thursday 24 September 2015

I write in relation to the recent removal of paramilitary flags from most arterial routes across North Down. For months local residents, visitors and investors have been forced to endure this flagrant demonstration of support for illegal proscribed terrorist organisations. I am therefore encouraged to see removal commence and hope this will continue in all locations throughout the Borough.

The lack of action by statutory bodies to address erection of these flags and ensure removal over the Summer has been extremely disappointing and has only served to increase legitimate sense of frustration and dissatisfaction by law abiding members of the public who demand a society free from fear and intimidation.  

Deafening silence from local DUP and Ulster Unionist MLAs and Councillors has further compounded the problem, allowing statutory bodies to continue with their ambivalence and those who erected the flags with the impression that such activity is somehow acceptable.

Rather than a one sided approach to dealing with the sinister presence of paramilitary organisations North Down deserves strong, unequivocal, vocal leadership from across the political spectrum in support of the Rule of Law and against the continued existence of any paramilitary organisations, regardless as to whether these criminal gangs masquerade as Loyalist or Republican.

For the current talks process to succeed the era of silence or inferred support from elected representatives on erection of paramilitary flags, murals and shrines must end alongside negotiations and joint protests with those representing paramilitary organisations.

We’ve travelled so far in Northern Ireland and have much more to achieve but without a real commitment to eliminate poison of paramilitarism our shared desire for a peaceful and prosperous future will never been realised. I’m not prepared to reluctantly contemplate another Summer of paramilitary flags flying off lampposts neither should any other elected representative or statutory bodies. People across North Down deserve better.

Yours etc.

Alliance Councillor Andrew Muir
Town Hall, Bangor

Muir welcomes Kinnegar Sewage Works progress

Councillor Muir at Kinnegar Lagoons
I have welcomed progress to date concerning multi million pound project to eliminate the foul odour and sewage pollution in the Kinnegar Lagoons, Holywood. The Project is being delivered by NI Water after I relentlessly lobbied Department for Regional Development, European Environment Commissioner, NI Environment Agency and NI Water to take action.

Whilst I am disappointed some of the tunnelling work has now been re-scheduled due to poor ground conditions I welcome news that project is generally proceeding apace with much needed new pumping station due to the complete by Summer 2016.

Whilst it should not have taken so many years for action to be taken, I welcome the commitment by NI Water to address the issue via the £4.5million construction project currently underway.

Through dogged determination and effective lobbying I am proud to have brought the campaign to this stage and will continue work to ensure NI Water finally remove the odour and pollution in the area which has destroyed the natural environment, eliminated any wildlife and left local people angered after having to endure years of a disgusting malodour.

Alliance continues campaign for St Columbanus’ College New Build

With young people across the Borough recently commencing the start of new School Term, North Down Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker and I are continuing the campaign to ensure St Columbanus' College get the green light to build long awaited new school building.

Following a series of meetings over the last year with School Principal Mr Liam Perry plus, Chairperson of the Board of Governors Mr Pat McCartan, Alliance representatives Dr Stephen Farry MLA, Councillor Gavin Walker and I have been lobbying the Minister for Education to deliver the much needed new school building. With the new School Development Plan permitting slightly increased enrolment the need for modern, fit for purpose buildings is of paramount importance.

I am therefore disappointed that, in response to correspondence from myself, Minister O'Dowd detailed "St Columbanus' College is not currently in my announced Major Capital Programme. I am therefore unable to commit to taking forward a new build for the College at this time.

Whilst other schools in the area have rightly been awarded new school buildings, St Columbanus' College has been left to exist in out of date buildings ill-equipped to deal with increasing enrolment and modern teaching requirements. I would urge the Minister to reflect upon situation and consider how the new building can be better prioritised by the Department for Education.  With a super mixed enrolment, popularity across North Down and Ards areas, a non-selective policy and good academic results St Columbanus' College ticks all the boxes and deserves to see construction work commence as soon as possible.

Commenting on the Minister's commitment to the programme of Minor Capital Works at the College, Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker said, "The ongoing success of the College has resulted in increased enrolment and the need for additional teaching facilities. And so I welcome the Ministers approval of the College's Development Proposal and his commitment to providing additional accommodation.

"In light of the GCSE results this week it is obvious that St Columbanus is an educational success story and we will continue to work with Mr Perry to ensure that the needs of the College - and particularly those of  the pupils - remain firmly at the top of the Minister's to-do list."

Bangor to become another Movie Destination - The Lost City of Z

I warmly welcome plans to film “The Lost City of Z” at the old Bangor Castle Leisure Centre, with real economic benefits to be derived. The former diving pool will be used on 13 September 2015.

Following filming of the movie “High Rise” at the old Leisure Centre, news that another movie will be filmed at the location is a positive development for Bangor. Yet again North Down will feature on the silver screen with resulting economic benefit derived as a result of increase PR, purchase of local services by visiting film crew and additional money for Council coffers as a result of the hire charge levied.  I look forward to watching the movie when finalised and can’t wait to watch ‘High Rise’ when released later this year on 9 October 2015.

Muir welcomes progress for The Front Development, Holywood

I welcome progress which will hopefully see new retail and apartment development at Hibernia Street, Holywood, known locally as “The Front”.

For far too long the area adjoining the A2 Holywood Bypass has been left an derelict eyesore, portraying a negative image to passing motorists. I am therefore delighted that Council has approved plan to progress this new scheme which will involve new shops, offices, apartments plus provision of new parking spaces in the same quantity as currently available and new Public Conveniences.

With occupancy rates in Holywood Town Centre fast approaching 100% the need for additional retail and office space is becoming acute, in stark contrast to other Town Centres. Progression of this scheme therefore provides opportunity to facilitate further economic growth with additional jobs likely to be created by the new businesses and construction work to be undertaken.

Rather than leaving the current carpark areas to deteriorate this scheme provides template for rejuvenation of the wider area, linking into the second, but smaller, phase of Public Realm works which will refresh and renovate Redburn Square and Hibernia Street.

More details at www.frontholywood.com

New Bangor Central Integrated Primary School buildings a step closer

Alliance representatives have welcomed sale of old Bangor Castle Leisure Centre car park to the Education Authority in order to enable future development and expansion of Bangor Central Integrated Primary School.

Sale of the car park area was considered vital to enable much needed new buildings for the popular Primary School with sale negotiations ongoing since 2011.

Commenting on the development, Councillor Stuart Anderson stated “With Bangor Central Integrated Primary School still operating within out of date buildings and being forced to use mobile classrooms to cater for strong demand, the need for new buildings and a modern teaching environment is of paramount importance. I am therefore delighted to learn that Council have concluded negotiations and sold the car park area of the old Bangor Castle Leisure Centre to the Education Authority. The pressure on primary schools across Bangor to facilitate demand is well known. I trust that the Department of Education will take this opportunity to equip the school in a manner that, at least in part, begins to address this issue.

Urging the Department for Education to now approve the new school buildings, I remarked “Sale of this area removes last barrier to progress and should provide green light for Department for Education to approve long awaited new school buildings. With the school enjoying strong enrolment and an inclusive Integrated Learning Environment I would urge the Minister for Education to evaluate how the school’s request for new buildings can be progressed without any further delay. I have already written to the Minister seeking an update and hope for a positive reply.

The Alliance Party have been strong supporters of Bangor Central Integrated Primary School and Integrated Education generally and will continue our strong support for such over months and years ahead as we seek to deliver a modern first class education system for everyone.

Columbanus 5k sprints to success

A total of eighty eight runners and walkers participated in the Mellons Hyundai Columbanus 5k Run on Friday evening around area previously inhabited by Saint Columbanus before be travelled onwards across Europe. With a range of people participating of different ages and abilities in perfect conditions and over £230 raised in voluntary donations to Friends of Columbanus, Bangor the event was felt to be real success.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who made the run possible including all the volunteers, marshals, Police Service of NI, Bangor Abbey Church who allowed us to use the Parish Halls and Mellons Hyundai for kind sponsorship of the event.

Columbanus 5k winners, from left, Race Organiser Councillor Andrew Muir, Barney Miller (North Down AC) – First Male Junior, Murphy Miller (North Down AC) – First Female, Mayor of Ards and North Down Alderman Alan Graham, Emily Fawthrop – First Female Junior, Jonathan Gibson, First Male.
I hope we have raised the profile of Columbanus and the area he once inhabited in an engaging manner by providing such a unique family friendly fun run which forms a part of the series of events taking place this year to mark 1,400 Anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus.

The provision of Refreshments, Fresh Fruit and Buns after the run kindly provided by Friends of Columbanus, Bangor volunteers plus presence of our Mayor Alderman Alan Graham was greatly appreciated by many and helped make the run a unique memorable evening. Feedback from runners in relation to the course was positive and provides a possible future template for any future runs in the area which can now be pursued if need exists.

Renewable energy, climate change & DUP

Last week the County Down Spectator carried a front page news story about proposed Solar Farm in North Down along with opposition from DUP MLA. 

Full details about the proposal can be found at http://epicpublic.planningni.gov.uk Planning Application Reference LA06/2015/0389/F. 

In response I submitted the following letter which appeared in the County Down Spectator today:

I write in relation to recent story in County Down Spectator concerning plan for a Solar Farm in North Down and subsequent objections from a DUP MLA and others.

As many readers will be aware, the world is already starting to experience the effects of Climate Change with developing countries hit the hardest as a result of stronger cyclones, gradually increasing land and sea temperatures plus more unpredictable rains and on-going sea-level rises.

Duty to decrease carbon emissions by exploring cleaner renewable energy sources and reducing our reliance upon fossil fuels is therefore not just a legal obligation but a moral one. Time to show foresight and consideration for future generations and others across the globe is today.

I was therefore disappointed to see a DUP representative leading the campaign against the proposed Solar Farm without recognising the need for such developments nor the detailed plans submitted which propose creation of a woodland to provide a barrier between the Solar Farm and A2 Dual Carriageway plus hedgerows augmented and gapped up with indigenous species around the circumference of the Solar Farm.

Distinct lack of leadership and reactionary response from DUP to object and oppose anything remotely different and new isn’t however surprising nor unexpected when we consider the issue of renewable energy, with DUP providing a warm home to climate change deniers such as Sammy Wilson.

I will be submitting a letter of support for the application submitted and encourage others to do likewise alongside supporting organisations such as Christian Aid who are working to help poor communities to adapt to the growing threat of climate change whilst also advocating for global action towards clean, low-carbon energy sources.

Mellons Hyundai Columbanus 5k Run & Walk launched

From left, Kenneth Irvine (Chairperson, Friends of 
Columbanus, Bangor), Ben Caughers (North Down Athletic Club), 
Ange Perrott (North Down Athletic Club), Alex Irvine (Tourism 
DevelopmentOfficer, Ards and North Down Borough Council),
Andrew Muir (5k Event Organiser), Canon Ronnie Nesbitt 
and Alderman Alan Graham (Mayor of Ards and North Down). 
Two children in front row Zach Irvine and Luke Irvine.
Runners are in training for a special event on Friday 21 August at 7pm at Bangor Abbey organised by the Friends of Columbanus as part of a series of events throughout 2015 marking 1,400 Anniversary of the death of Columbanus who was based in Bangor Abbey before travelling across Europe.

The 5k run and walk will leave Bangor Abbey and tour three laps of Castle Park through scenic Bangor Castle grounds and the site of old Bangor Abbey via a formally measured and marshalled course. Entry is free of charge with voluntary donations to Friends of Columbanus, Bangor encouraged.

The 5k family friendly Run and Walk is open to all regardless of ability or age with optional fancy dress with prizes for best dressed Adult and Child dressed monk.

After recent successful Hadlow 5k Run & Walk in Donaghadee I am looking forward to being involved in delivering another community based event giving athletes, joggers, fun runners and walkers opportunity to enjoy a dander in the outdoors via a formal organised event. Anyone not interested in running or walking can volunteer by contacting me via telephoning 07813 945411 or email mail@andrewmuir.net We are extremely grateful to Mellons Hyundai for making this event possible via their kind sponsorship which allows us to provide entry free of charge for everyone.

Anyone interested can register on the day from 5pm at Bangor Abbey Parish Halls which will also be location for Refreshments and Buns after the event for runners, walkers and volunteers.

Parking for the event is available at Abbey Street, Bangor car parks, Newtownards Road car park plus the Health Centre off Newtownards Road.

Muir continues campaign to see Waterfall Walk reopened

© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence
I am continuing my campaign to see the Waterfall Walk in Crawfordsburn Country Park repaired. Abandoned by the NI Environment Agency since winter 2010, I have since been campaigning for alternative access to the waterfall to be provided with the Environment Minister now revealing plans for the creation of an alternative access path due to safety concerns.

For five years people have been unable to access one of North Down’s natural beauty spots – something I have been trying to find answers to for some time.

Despite previous assurances that this issue would be addressed, the NIEA has made absolutely no effort to rectify the problem leaving many disappointed and frustrated.

That is why I again questioned the Environment Minister to outline the specific reasons as to why any work has stalled.  While the Minister admitted there are no ownership or access issues preventing access, but did acknowledge concerns around the existing path being unstable.

Following this admission, I am pleased the Minister has instructed the NIEA to investigate the creation of an alternative path.  This would create a lasting solution for local people and tourists who want to get closer to the waterfall than the current viewing platform permits.

Five years is long enough to wait and I will be continuing to push both the Minister and the NIEA to make sure the best long-term solution is delivered.

Assembly Question response below:

AQW 46729/11-15

To ask the Minister of the Environment whether any land ownership or access issues are inhibiting the Northern Ireland Environment Agency from making the necessary repairs to enable access to the Waterfall Walk in Crawfordsburn Country Park.

There are no ownership or access issues preventing access to make repairs. However, senior engineers have advised that the steep slope on the left side of the Crawford’s Burn, into which the closed path was cut, is inherently unstable.
With the prospect of further landslips I have asked NIEA to explore the creation of an alternative access path. Subject to the availability of capital funding, this would provide a long term solution and ensure public safety.
The outcome of a current bid for funding will determine whether the works can progress this financial year.
Meanwhile visitors to Crawfordsburn Country Park wishing to see the waterfall behind Crawfordsburn Village can still access the viewing platform from the path on the right bank of the Crawford’s Burn.

Muir welcomes saving of historic gate lodge

I welcome news an historic gate lodge is to be saved from potential destruction. Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy recently announced in response to an Alliance Assembly question that Craigowen Lodge, located on the main Belfast to Bangor road close to the Seahill Road junction, would be given to Hearth Housing Association with a view to securing its future. 

The lodge had been purchased by Roads Service ahead of a proposed road-widening scheme that never occurred. The listed building suffered an arson attack several years ago, after which it had a tin roof installed for protection. It was designed by Thomas Turner, a pupil of Sir Charles Lanyon. 

Craigowen Lodge is a building steeped in history and heritage, which deserves to be restored and protected as much as possible. Hearth Housing Association informed me in 2011 they wanted to renovate the building, so it is extremely welcome to see that work finally moving ahead. 

Hearth specialises in restoring historic buildings, so the organisation is perfect to bring back Craigowen to its former glories. Our built heritage needs to be secured - they could provide much-needed social housing and used in general so future generations can enjoy them.

Twelfth Celebrations have the potential to succeed, days of inflammatory and prejudicial words and actions must be consigned to the past

Enjoying bottle of pop as a child on 12th July after
watching Band Parade and Demonstration
Over the next week Towns and Cities across Northern Ireland will celebrate the Twelfth, with parties culminating in bonfires, parades and speeches at the Field.

As someone born as a product of a mixed marriage, I am proud to consider part of my identity as British and recall looking forward to watching the bands play and parades pass on the Twelfth of July, whether in North Down or Belfast.

As an adult I have continued to attend events nearly every year and in recent years was  grateful to be invited as a guest of the Orange Order for a meal and historical discussion at The Field in Belfast. As Mayor of North Down in 2013/14 I also valued the opportunity to welcome local Orange Order members to the Town Hall on two occasions and found my visit to The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre at Oldbridge House, Co Meath worthwhile.

In 2010 I was delighted to accept an invite to attend a 12th July Garden Party hosted in Dublin by Irish President Mary McAleese. The event was held to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne and the resulting shared history of Ireland, North and South. It attracted people from all backgrounds, North and South, Unionist and Nationalist, Orange and Green, other and none and set out a positive vision of how we can celebrate our shared past today.

With Dr Martin McAleese, President of Ireland Mary McAleese
and my partner Alan at Twelfth of July Garden Party
Despite recent difficulties and previous incidents, especially at some local bonfire sites, which I condemn without equivocation, it is my strong hope that the Twelfth Celebrations have the potential to succeed as a positive celebration of identity characterised by mutual respect, tolerance, dialogue, understanding and support for the Police as they seek to uphold the Rule of Law. The days of inflammatory and prejudicial words and actions perpetrated by a small minority but projected across the world must be consigned to the past.

The numerous bonfire sites across the borough and the main local demonstration due to occur in Holywood in the days ahead provide a great opportunity to enhance and strengthen North Down as a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone with universal respect for the rule of law. Together, let’s grasp it.

Time for Health Minister to save Bangor Hospital

I am profoundly disappointed that the Health Trust have decided to permanently close the 20 bed GP unit at Bangor Community Hospital despite a strong and vocal grass roots campaign in support of retention.

The figures and facts used to permanently close the unit simply don’t stack up and completely overlook the massive social and health benefits the unit has offered for many years.  

Whilst the Trust have decided to permanently close the unit the final decision now rests with the Health Minister. I would urge the DUP Minister to reflect upon the cross party campaign mounted against closure plus the strong local feelings expressed and reject this ill thought out decision.

Successful Sustrans Piccolo Fondo Pedal Ride from Holywood

Sustrans Giro D'Italia legacy event Piccolo Fondo Pedal Ride took place on Saturday 20 June 2015 involving over seventy cyclists young and old who departed Holywood (Seapark) at 11am to Titanic Quarter, Belfast. Cyclists from Lisburn, Newtownabbey and Comber also converged at Titanic Quarter along with the Holywood Cyclists at approximately 12.30pm.

Cyclists before departure at Seapark, Holywood
The Holywood section was co-ordinated by Sustrans Ranger Jackie Mitchell assisted by Sustrans Deputy Director Steven Patterson plus many volunteers including Sustrans Ranger Andrew Muir, Mary Lappin, James Hunter, Paul Smith, Philip Palin, Tom, Michelle, Martin and others.

After the amazing Giro D’Italia event last year it was fantastic to be able to recreate the Giro feeling again in 2015, wear a little pink and help guide over seventy cyclists at a leisurely pace from Holywood to Titanic Quarter and cross the finish line used by Giro Fondo cyclists the next day. Saturday proven again that cycling can be fun, healthy and a sustainable form of transport which I hope will continue to grow in popularity over the years ahead via the Giro legacy events and local initiatives undertaken by, for example North Down Cycling Club who held another brilliantly successful Coastal Challenge event on Sunday.

Sustrans Volunteer Jackie Mitchel from Holywood said: “Many will remember the great atmosphere of the Giro d’Italia and the buzz about cycling. The Gran Fondo is for non-professional cyclists who want to compete but the Piccolo Fondo is a great chance to join in for a relaxed bike ride into the city. You don’t have to be a lycra-clad racing cyclist but just enjoy being out on your bike. So come explore with us the National Cycle Network (NCN). Tell your family and friends, get into the pink and come along for the ride.”

Alliance urges action on Paramilitary Flags across Bangor

I condemn the recent appearance of Paramilitary Flags across Bangor and urge statutory bodies to step forward and agree a unified plan to ensure their removal.  I have been contacted numerous times since the flags started appearing with many people appalled to see flags erected for illegal proscribed terrorist organisations.

I, along with many other people across North Down, am appalled to see flags erected for illegal proscribed terrorist organisations. The vast overwhelming majority of people across North Down are law abiding tolerant citizens who respect the Police Service of NI, abhor intimidation and criminality and want us to move forward away from the shadow of all paramilitary organisations, whether Loyalist or Republican. Support for terrorist organisations was never acceptable in the past and must never be tolerated today or in the future.

FoRM Walled Garden Public Art Exhibition

It's inspirational to see Bangor Castle Walled Garden featuring such a wide range of innovative items designed by local artists. With a rich history Bangor Castle Walled Garden contains many features, plants, Band Stand and cafe which help make North Down a great place to visit or live, enhanced by the current Public Art sculpture exhibition. I greatly enjoyed the guided tour on Saturday and would encourage everyone to pop along and enjoy the exhibition and Walled Garden which is located opposite Bangor Aurora Leisure Centre.

Reservoirs Bill could see local sites sold to highest bidder

The future of local reservoirs is at risk after new legislation has made is much easier for NI Water to sell them to the highest bidder.

I am deeply concerned around the environmental impact of the Reservoirs Bill, after the legislation passed through the Assembly last week.

I’m deeply concerned about the implications of this bill and the removal of any responsibility from NI Water concerning future ownership and management of their 22 redundant reservoirs – which they have been keen to dispose of for years.

Once the Reservoirs Bill becomes law public and private Reservoir owners will be required to maintain Reservoirs to a specified standard. No regulations presently exist to ensure Reservoirs are properly maintained thereby increasing risk of flood and environmental damage in the event of a dam breaking or other malfunction.

Since becoming a Councillor in 2010 I have campaigned relentlessly to safeguard the future for NI Water’s many redundant reservoirs which provide a home to range of wildlife plus local organisations such as angling clubs.

Locally, in North Down, I have campaigned to save Portavoe Reservoirs in Groomsport, Creightons Green Lower, Holywood, Ballysallagh Upper & Lower (Craigantlet), Conlig Upper & Lower (Bangor) and Church Road, Holywood.

The new Ards and North Down Borough Council only expressed an interest in relation to Portavoe with all others to be offered to other public bodies this Summer before being placed on the market for sale to the highest bidder. Concerns have now been raised as a result of the Council’s decision that two Reservoirs in Conlig could be snapped up for housing development following previous discussions concerning land zoning during the development of BMAP.

Instead of selling the Reservoirs once the Reservoirs Bill becomes law I urge NI Water to explore different ways for future ownership and management involving local communities in order to ensure the vast economic, social, environmental and health benefits are not lost forever.

Step Forward together, Lead Change and Vote Alliance on 7 May 2015

North Down is a great place but needs ambition, energy and a fresh approach to take us forward. I’m relentlessly positive that our best days are yet to come and offer you courage, determination and commitment to build an even better place where we attract and retain talent, grow the economy, respect everyone as an individual whilst protecting and enhancing our environment for future generations.

Alliance is the only party that puts building a shared society as its top priority, aspiring to a new type of society which embraces diversity. I seek your support for this vision on the basis of a track record of inclusive leadership, delivery on the issues that matter plus a comprehensive Alliance Party manifesto with detailed policies on a range of areas such as plans to tackle division and save £1billion wasted each year on segregation, a Green New Deal, plans to tackle tax avoidance and also to end secretive political donations. Full details at www.allianceparty.org

On 7 May you can move forward to this vision or back to old them and us politics whilst opportunities and public finances are wasted. It’s your choice. Next Thursday let’s Step Forward together, Lead Change and vote Alliance.

38 years old, born, bred and living in North Down with a strong record of public service. Alliance Councillor since 2010, Former Mayor of North Down 2013/2014 undertaking over 700 engagements under theme Working as One, promoting inclusivity daily by engaging with an unprecedented range of people whether Faith Groups, Ethnic Minorities, GAA, Royal British Legion, Orange Order or many Charities such as St Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army and Guide Dogs for the Blind with £13,000 raised for Camphill, YMCA and Mark Pollock Trust.

Strong record of delivery on range of issues, whether £4.5million to address Kinnegar sewage pollution, Bangor 5k weekly parkrun, Bangor Culture Day, securing Council support for an end to fox hunting, saving Cultra Rail Station and Millisle Kindertransport Farm, upgrade for Redburn Country Park, cycling improvements, whilst also securing more transparent Council decision making over planning applications and battling to end secretive donations to political parties.

Alliance Council Group Leader, Member of Priory Integrated College Board of Governors, Friends of Columbanus, Bangor plus Friends of the Earth, Holywood Residents’ Association, Holywood Conservation Group and Cats Protection League. Keen amateur athlete and cyclist who often runs races as member of North Down Athletics Club.