Muir delivers greater transparency for planning decisions

I have managed to deliver changes in how planning applications will be dealt with by our new Council when powers are transferred from Department for the Environment to Ards and North Down Borough Council on 1 April 2015.

With planning powers transferring to local Councils on 1 April 2015 it’s vital that appropriate procedures are put in place to ensure planning decisions are made in an open, transparent and accountable manner. I am therefore delighted that the new Council unanimously agreed that it is no longer acceptable to have Councillors simply raising their arm and no voting records retained detailing who voted for or against planning applications. Only if you attend the meeting do you see how Councillors have voted by raising their arm.

If a vote is taken on a Planning Application names of Councillors voting for, against and abstaining will now automatically be recorded in the minutes without exception. Minutes of the meeting will record voting record of Councillors on each issue for public review and scrutiny by members of the public. Without the change secured a recorded vote detailing how each Councillor voted would have only occurred if a Councillor requested such before members were given the opportunity to raise their hands for or against. This inevitably requires Councillors to predict if a division vote will occur. 

Health Minister should end Bangor Hospital bed closure shambles - Muir

Whilst I welcome decision made late last year to retain the Minor Injuries Unit at Bangor Community Hospital the decision to proceed with closure of the 20 bed GP unit was short sighted and ill thought out. 

Fear that decision to retain the Minor Injuries Unit would overshadow closure of the 20 bed unit was thankfully tackled by Bangor resident Eleanor Wilson who has successfully challenged the decision in court. We are now left in the current shambles with unit closed, declaration this was unlawful due to lack of consultation but closure to remain whilst an ambiguous consultation is conducted to decide whether doors remain permanently closed.

It’s about time Minister for Health Jim Wells MLA got a grip of this situation, showed his commitment to Transforming your Care and stepped in to secure Bangor Hospital’s future including the 20 bed unit which is of equal value alongside the Minor Injuries Unit. Care in a local surrounding is much more important and value for money than increasing pressure on the already strained Ulster Hospital.

DUP again block transparency on political donations

Yet again the DUP have voted against transparency on political donations by voting against a motion I presented at North and Ards District Shadow Council Governance Committee last Thursday night which called on the Secretary of State to end the anonymity for individuals making large donations to political parties. DUP Councillors present did not speak to explain their position and sat in silence whilst debate and vote occured. The motion will now go the full shadow Council early next month.

Donations over £7,500 from a single source to a political party are made public in the rest of the UK; however in Northern Ireland this information is not currently published. Naomi Long secured an amendment at Westminster in 2013 that will mean that at some point in the future, any such donation made since January 2014 will be published, but the Secretary of State has not indicated when this will happen.

I was very disappointed that DUP Councillors voted against this motion with complete, absolute and total silence on reasons why. If we are to improve the levels of trust and confidence in the political system then we need to let the public know who is funding our political parties. If we do not lift the veil of secrecy, then suspicion and mistrust will only fester among the public.

On your marks for Craic 10k

Craic 10k is a new running event due to take place on St Patrick’s Day 2015 in Belfast City Centre.  The new event promises to be a great urban course taking runners around Belfast City, starting at Belfast City Hall and ending in Titanic Quarter after passing through East Belfast, the Gaeltacht and the Cathedral Quarter. 

Michael Fox of Fitzers Catering (sponsors of the last KM)
along with Cllr Andrew Muir, event organiser 
Orlaith Adams and East Belfast Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle
With the first 1000 entrants receiving a commemorative Craic 10k T-shirt and a ‘goodie’ bag from O’Neills, and all runners getting a medal, bottle of water, banana and voucher for a pint of non-alcoholic beer at the finish it looks certain to be an excellent event. Early Bird Entry fee is £15, increasing to £25 after 2 March 2015 so it’s time to get on your marks, register and run at www.aisling-events.com 

Muir welcomes approval for St Columbanus’ College growth

I welcome the decision by the Education Minister to increase the capacity at St Columbanus' College, Bangor. Enrolment will increase from 500 to 750 pupils in a phased manner between now and 2025.

St Columbanus' College is a very popular over subscribed local school. The local community will be very pleased to hear that the Education Minister has granted approval for its expansion. This development plan will enable its growth and should pave the way for its much needed and long awaited new build.

As a super mixed school of different religious denominations, I am delighted that we will see more pupils being educated in such a mixed environment.

As a former pupil, I am confident that this decision will lead to more pupils receiving a first class education at one of Northern Ireland's best schools. I would like to pass on my congratulations to the Staff and Board of Governors for the work to date which has delivered this achievement and look forward to supporting the school over months and years ahead.

Muir appeals for information on Lisa Dorrian disappearance

Disappearance of Lisa Dorrian ten years ago this month sent shockwaves throughout North Down and beyond, leaving a family distraught, without any understanding of what happened and local community fearful. Ten years on I would urge anyone with even the slightest amount of information to contact the Police or Crimestoppers. Even if felt to be insignificant it could be key to resolving this crime and ending the awful situation which Lisa’s family continue to endure.

Long supports Muir’s Westminster candidacy at Alliance AGM

Naomi Long MP with North Down Alliance
Elected Representatives and Association Officers
Alliance Deputy Leader and East Belfast MP Naomi Long was in Donaghadee last week, backing my selection by North Down Alliance Association as North Down Westminster candidate.

Attending the Party’s North Down Annual General Meeting (AGM), Mrs Long said that in a time of political deadlock, with ongoing concerns around the economy and future stability of Northern Ireland, there was never a greater need for Alliance-style politics – always keeping their word.

The evening also saw the new committee elected, with Maurice Campbell taking over the role of Chair, Councillor Stuart Anderson as Vice Chair, with long serving secretary Michael Watts retaining his role.

Maurice Campbell said: “2014 was a great year for the Alliance Party in North Down.  Not only did we see record numbers of new people joining the Party, but we had a fantastic set of local elections and have returned a strong team to the new North Down and Ards Council

“Moving forward throughout 2015 Alliance will continue to work hard to provide local representation for everyone and have big plans to grow our membership base even further.  We look forward to meeting as many people as possible on the doorsteps in the coming months.
In the Executive our own North Down MLA Stephen Farry consistently delivers fair outcomes for everyone in his role as Minister at the Department of Employment and Learning, and David Ford provides the strong principled leadership so vital at the Department of Justice."
Naomi Long MP said: “Alliance is the Party you can trust to deliver.  Unlike the mixed messages we have seen from others in recent weeks, Alliance will always follow through on its promises – from what you read in our manifesto, to what our elected representatives bring to all levels of government.

“Councillor Andrew Muir is an excellent candidate for Westminster and I’m delighted to be here to support and encourage North Down members as they work towards achieving another fantastic result locally. I truly believe more and more people will be inspired to step forward with us as we aim to deliver our vision for a shared and better Northern Ireland for everyone.”

Muir takes the fight to end animal cruelty to the new North Down and Ards Council

I took the fight to end animal cruelty across North Down and Ards to the new super Council on 22 January 2015, calling for a ban on the hunting of mammals with dogs and a ban on the use and sale of snares for the purposes of capturing or killing animals.
I brought a motion asking the new Council to write to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development urging her to bring forward immediate proposals.
The move follows the Alliance Party's on-going commitment to promoting animal welfare and opposing animal cruelty, which Alliance Councillors have fought for on a local level alongside East Belfast MP Naomi Long who has also received awards as a recognition for her hard work on the issue.
The new North Down and Ards Council has a clear opportunity to make a statement about how we value animals and see preventing cruelty as a priority.
With this in mind , it is very disappointing that some members from the DUP and UUP still choose to abstain on the issue.
A ban on hunting with dogs would bring us into line with England and Wales, where the hunting of foxes with other mammals has already been outlawed. I can't understand why all Councillors would not want the barbaric nature of this so-called sport banned.
But we must go further and outlaw the use of snares as a wildlife control technique. It is frustrating that this unnecessarily cruel technique was not already dealt with by the Minister during previous consultation.
The Alliance Party is committed to eliminating animal cruelty and will continue to work hard through a number of measures to achieve this goal. I hope all Councillors will be able to support this motion when the committee decision goes before full Council on Thursday 5 February 2015 and the Minister is able to respond at the earliest opportunity.