Muir drives up eCar Charger provision

New Dual eCharger Car Bays at Quay Street, Bangor
I warmly welcome provision of an additional Electric Car Charging Bay at the popular Quay Street charging point in Bangor after campaigning for an extra parking space in light of the high demand experienced for the charger.

For over a year I have been lobbying the Department for Infrastructure to provide an additional eCar Charging Bay at Quay Street, Bangor after users contacted me detailing the demand. Despite the request being initially denied, together I preserved with the support of many users and am delighted to see two dedicated eCar Parking Bays now provided.

With the Quay Street eCar charging point already offering ability to charge two vehicles at once but only one dedicated eCar Parking Bay previously provided the frustration of users was obvious with many previously unable to charge up due to the other bays being occupied by conventional vehicles. Through the dogged determination of the users concerned to outline the economic and environmental benefits involved together we have achieved a small but important step towards a greener and cleaner future. I look forward to exploring other opportunities to boost eCar Charger provision across the Borough.

Fighting to end Holywood building collapse saga

1 Stewart's Place, Holywood with road partially closed
I have been continuing the fight to end the saga associated with collapse of 1 Stewart’s Place building in Holywood with the nearby road remaining partially closed for nearly five months following the collapse of the historic building.

Following initial collapse on 21 July 2016 a saga has unfolded with the Bangor Road fully closed for six weeks only to be replaced by traffic lights which still remain in place today, impeding access to Holywood Town Centre. Whilst one side of the building has been shored up the other side remains fully exposed to the elements with further bits of masonry falling off in recent days.

After endless delays and hollow promises of action I was sadly left with no other option but to bring a motion to our local Council calling for action. It is extremely frustrating to witness no further progress on the issue despite Ards and North Down having new powers to intervene. Recent news that the building is now infested with rats who have been scurrying into local homes merely adds fuel to the sense of anger felt by many, compounded by news nothing seemingly can be done to deal with the rat infestation because the building is considered unsafe. Local residents and businesses have suffered for too long with this enduring saga which is fast becoming a scandal and byword for inaction, buck passing and shrugging of shoulders.

I was therefore glad to receive unanimous support from the Council’s Environment Committee on Wednesday 7 December 2016 for my Motion calling upon officers to bring back a range of options to rectify the situation and urging Transport NI to use their influence to end the owners right to keep the road partially closed.

Whilst full responsibility remains with the building’s owner who has shamefully neglected to sort the issue and inflicted great inconvenience upon Holywood without seemingly a shred of embarrassment Council’s responsibility in relation to this matter must extend beyond mere merely Health and Safety duties. With new powers to serve Urgent Works Notices Ards and North Down Borough Council has the tools available and should not stand idly by whilst trade is damaged, visitors turn away from Holywood Town Centre during the busy Christmas Shopping Season, rats infiltrate local people’s homes and a Listed Building slowly disintegrates.

Muir welcomes Holywood resurfacing commitment

I welcome commitment from Transport NI to resurface Holywood High Street but am disappointed at delay taken and limited scope of the works.

Nearly one year after the new Public Realm works were officially signed off involving new pavements, benches and associated street furniture the commitment by Transport NI to finish the job and resurface Holywood High Street by end of March 2017 is welcome but long overdue.

In response to my most recent enquiry as to when the resurfacing would take place I was advised ‘The resurfacing of High Street, Holywood from the Maypole to Downshire Road is a priority scheme and has been included in this year’s programme’

With remaining roads around Holywood Town Centre also in dire state I have therefore submitted a further enquiry concerning when other associated roads will be resurfaced and hope plans will be put in place to finish the wider job as soon as possible.

Success with Spafield carpark lighting - Muir

I welcome a commitment from Ards and North Down Borough Council to provide lighting in Holywood's Spafield public carpark.

Spafield is one of the few free carparks in Holywood and so is very popular. Unfortunately with the dark nights the lack of lighting can result in pedestrians being put at risk from motorists. Following representations made to me I raised this with the Council, and am pleased to have received a positive result for users, whether sportspeople using the nearby 3G pitch, shoppers and business people, Parishioners attending St Colmcille’s Church, visitors to Spafield and Loughview Folds or Sullivan school parents and students.

I have a commitment from the Council that lighting will be installed at Spafield before the end of this financial year. This is very welcome and I appreciate the speedy response from Council.

Muir calls on Royal Mail to deliver for Craigavad residents

I am calling upon Royal Mail to replace a post box at Station Road, Craigavad that had been removed after it was damaged by a lorry.
The loss of this post box has proven to be a real inconconvenience for residents. Despite representations made, Royal Mail have outlined that they do not intend to replace it and instead are suggesting residents visit nearby locations such as the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum to post letters. In this digital age I would have thought the Post Office would be keen to make it easier for residents to use their services rather than put obstacles in the way.

I have been in contact with the Royal Mail Chief Executive requesting they reconsider this decision and am gathering petition signatures to pass on to show there is public demand for this post box to be returned.
Anyone wishing to add their support to the campaign should email me at mail@andrewmuir.net

Muir bringing fight to end Stewart's Place saga to Council

I am bringing the campaign to end the ongoing saga associated with 1 Stewart’s Place, Holywood to Ards and North Down Borough Council. The listed building partially collapsed on 21 July with nearby Bangor Road closed since then. The building has also remained exposed to the elements with no activity to effect repairs and get the busy road fully re-opened.

Residents, businesses and visitors to Holywood are rightly fed up with the Stewart’s Place saga. Four months after 1 Stewart’s Place partially collapsed the busy Bangor Road remains partially closed with vehicles forced to queue behind traffic lights before eventually being allowed to pass.

Whilst preferable to the complete closure which was endured over the Summer we cannot continue with a main arterial route partially blocked as the busy Christmas trading period approaches. With the building exposed to the elements a rodent infestation is also now under investigation, causing great angst for local residents who have suffered from the problems associated with this building for far too long. With the building’s owner still shamefully dragging their heels I have therefore submitted a Motion asking officers to report urgently on the matter and outline options for Council and other bodies to intervene and get the issue sorted without delay.

Motion submitted to Ards and North Down Borough Council “That this Council asks that officers urgently bring back a report on situation pertaining to 1 Stewart’s Place, Holywood and options available for statutory intervention to enable full re-opening of Bangor Road as soon as possible."

Muir welcomes funding for Greenways

With local Greenway Campaigner Louis O'Keefe
I warmly welcome the announcement of £24,000 funding for 3 greenways projects in the Ards and North Down Council area after previously securing a number of improvements along the North Down Coastal Path and lobbying for further enhancements.

Greenways are a valuable resource for people who want to be active and enjoy our beautiful countryside. Greenways give the opportunity to get away from traffic and walk, run or cycle in a traffic free environment.

I welcome the announcement from Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard that he will provide funding of £8000 for feasibility studies to explore improvements in each of the 3 greenways projects put forward by Ards and North Down Council. This is an important first step in rolling out a greenways network across Northern Ireland.

The 3 projects are; Comber to Newtownards greenway, Orlock Point to Donaghadee greenway and Orlock Point to Holywood Greenway, otherwise known as the North Down Coastal Path.

Enhancements previously secured following extensive lobbying and campaigning by myself are, for example, the new Boardwalk which replaced the steep steps at Seahill along the North Down Coastal Path and obtaining 24/7 access between the Kinnegar and Airport Road sectors linking Holywood and Belfast.

Future for Cairn Wood looking brighter

Cllr Muir with Jock 
The long term future for Cairn Wood and Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir and Forest was now looking brighter, after Ards and North Down Borough Council agreed to look at options for the management of the area.

Cairn Wood and Ballysallagh Reservoir are fantastic natural resources that should always be available for the people of this borough, and others, to enjoy. The strength of public interest was clearly shown when the petition campaign I led resulted in it being taken off the market for sale and retained in public ownership under the Forest Service.

I am greatly encouraged that Cairn Wood has a bright future, now that Council has agreed to explore the options for a joint management arrangement with the Forest Service, including a partnership approach.

Clearly Cairn Wood has much to offer the Borough in terms of economic and social benefits. For that reason it is important that all users, especially groups who have been active in securing it in public ownership and others such as Anglers using the Reservoir, are fully involved in the discussions that will lead to development of the plan for its future. Through involving a wide range of interests we will maximise the opportunities for this beautiful area. I was disappointed a small number of DUP and Ulster Unionist Councillors voted against this vital next step but will continue to campaign until we finally secure the long term future of Cairn Wood.

Serious concerns over closure of Bangor custody suite - Muir

The news that Bangor Custody Suite is to close from 1 December raises serious concerns about the best use of police resources in this Borough with genuine worries police officers will be taken from their essential duties protecting the community to escort detainees to Musgrave Street in Belfast.

This has the potential to leave a major shortage of officers on the ground as they spend time travelling between Bangor and Belfast and potentially beyond with Musgrave Street already experiencing high levels of demand and certain times. 

We have already lost Ards Custody Suite and while we are told closure of Bangor Custody Suite is a temporary measure, elected representatives and local solicitors are rightly concerned that if this proposal is not challenged it could lead to closures of local police stations. An important aspect of policing is visibility to maintain public confidence. We need this facility to remain open and police officers to be available to serve the community. We intend to follow the matter up at all relevant levels to ensure this short sighted decision is reviewed.

Growing demand for allotments

I have been working to meet the growing demand across the Ards and North Down Council area for additional allotment provision. There is no doubt about the wide range of benefits an allotment can bring, both for an individual and the wider community. An individuals physical and mental wellbeing can be strengthened from being active in the fresh air, while having a supply of freshly grown fruit and vegetables helps reduce expenditure on weekly shopping bills. Allotments are a great place for people to meet, share ideas and help each other and so a real community spirit can be developed. 

I am pleased my campaign for greater allotment provision has been receiving increasing support both from Councillors and the wider community. Council officers have made good progress with their initial report. The next stage is to identify the level and areas of demand, identify suitable locations and how they could be funded, and the likely fees payable. This is an exciting time for an initiative that can bring great benefits to our area and community

Holywood highway partially re-opened after six weeks of delays

After six weeks of delays, broken promises and excuses, I am glad to see 1 Stewart's Place shored up which has enabled the road to be partially reopened. The work to the site at 1 Stewart's Place in Holywood was due to begin over a month ago but the road remained closed due to inaction and delays. The building partially collapsed last month.

With the shoring in place I will continue to pressure the Council and developer to explore longer-term options to get the road fully reopened, the building stabilised and normality resumed.

Serious lessons must be learnt after this debacle, including the lack of action due to the largely informal approach adopted by the authorities.

1 Stewart's Place building owners dragging their feet

The owners of a local listed building in Holywood are dragging their feet after another delay in securing it, despite the risk of imminent collapse.

The work to the site at 1 Stewart's Place was due to begin three weeks ago, however, a section of the town's busy Bangor Road nearby remains closed, with no work carried out. The building partially collapsed last month, more empty promises from the developer mean that the future of the building is still in jeopardy.

It is disappointing the owner has taken so long to deliberate over this and still has yet to secure the site

The closure of part of Bangor Road has inflicted weeks of disruption upon the people of Holywood - the owner should not have allowed the building to deteriorate into the perilous state it currently is in.

Instead it is dragging on and we are hearing more and more broken promises about its future. While we would ideally like to save the building, sadly as this issue continues, it's looking more likely that demolition may now be the only viable option.

Historic Holywood Building threatened with demolition

1 Stewart's Place to left with restored
3 Stewart's Place to the right
Last minute efforts are underway to save a well-known historic building on the gateway into Holywood which is being threatened with demolition due to fears of imminent collapse.

Having previously campaigned to save the site at number 1 Stewarts Place I am angered the owner has let the situation get so out of hand, despite previous involvement by Department of the Environment Department, at my request.

Late w/c 27 June I was both shocked and saddened to learn that an application for demolition has been made for Number 1 Stewart’s Place is an iconic building in the heart of Holywood.  Listed in the 1970s, the building is the other part of the ‘Stewart’s Place pair’ and forms part of the Holywood Conservation Area, but unfortunately the property has been on the Built Heritage at Risk Northern Ireland Register for a number of years. It’s other half, No 3 Stewart’s Place was restored by Hearth Housing Association in 1993.

Whilst the large cut in Grant Funding to restore listed buildings hasn’t helped this building, the owner must take responsibility for how badly it has fallen into disrepair.  In 2011 I managed to get the Department for the Environment to threaten the owner with issuing of a Urgent Works Notice to repair the building but it now seems the emergency repairs effected in the face of this threat were merely cosmetic.

Stewart’s Place is thought to have been built around 1840 by William Lowry, with numbers one and three forming a pair of three-storey stucco houses with rounded corners and were named after the first post-master of Holywood Hugh Stewart. 

An independent report commissioned by Ards and North Down Borough Council’s Planning Department has recently reported ‘the only viable option in this instance is the complete demolition of the building’, adding it was ‘in the interests of public safety’.

It is unacceptable that the owner has shirked responsibility of looking after this building, with external groups such as the Holywood Conservation Group previously providing their own funds to refresh the exterior via installation of trompe l’oeil feature windows.

The report commissioned by Ards and North Down Council is stark reading and a sad indictment of how we value our Built Heritage in Northern Ireland. History has many examples of buildings left to fall into disrepair until demolition left as seemingly the only option.

A clear difference of opinion has however emerged concerning whether demolition is the only option with other experts strongly disagreeing with the reports ultimate finding that demolition is the only solution. Whilst public safety is of paramount important I feel it’s vital we explore all avenues and ensure all evidence has been considered before a decision is made and the wrecking ball appears. Once demolished this building will be lost forever. An urgent meeting is therefore being sought with Planning Department representatives before the a decision is made on the demolition application which could be as early as next week. The views of relevant bodies such as the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, Hearth and Holywood Conservation Group must be given due consideration.

The story of 1 Stewart’s Place must act as wake up call for government to take firmer action against developers who let building fall into ruins and improve Grant Support to enable restoration of historic buildings at risk.

Withholding of Cairn Wood documents raises concerns

The withholding of documents concerning plans to sell and develop Cairn Wood raises yet more concerns about what’s been agreed behind closed doors.

I previously requested that government departments outline what’s been discussed and agreed about Cairn Wood via a Freedom of Information request. The information was held back until after the election but when received significant portions have been withheld surrounding the deal to transfer Cairn Wood from NI Water to the Forestry Service.

For far too long users of Cairn Wood Forest have been left in the dark over what’s on the horizon. By submitting the Freedom of Information request I hoped to secure some transparency over plans agreed but sadly the information has been withheld and we are still awaiting firm details on what NI Water and the Forestry Service plan for Cairn Wood.

Recent Ministerial Question Time thankfully provided an opportunity to quiz the new Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Michelle McIlveen on the issue. I am grateful for my colleague Chris Lyttle MLA for his contribution and look forward to meeting Minister McIlveen on the issue to find out what’s planned.

Muir welcomes Conlig Reservoirs sale u-turn

I welcome news from Northern Ireland Water concerning previous plans to sell two Reservoirs in Conlig Village. I have been lobbying NI Water to drop plans to sell the environmental havens and recently was informed:

NI Water has not advertised these reservoirs for sale on the private market, and have no immediate plans to do so.

Experience indicates that there is a very limited (almost non-existent!) market for this type of property.  NI Water will only take forward the sale of property that we believe will sell and return best value.

After making contact with NI Water in response to concerns from a local resident that the Reservoirs could be sold I was disturbed to receive a response from NI Water which stated  ‘Within the past few weeks we have had some enquiries regarding the status of the reservoirs, and potential for private sale’. These comments caused legitimate anxiety and, as a result, I sought clarity on the matter.

With the election period no progress was possible due to Civil Service rules on not commenting nor meeting on such matters but with the elections now over I again made contact and have been informed that no plans exist to sell the reservoirs on the private market and that a “very limited (almost non-existent!) market” exists. I welcome this news but will continue to monitor the situation especially in light of fact that a previous attempt was made to rezone the areas for housing via the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan. It’s vital that we protect our Green Spaces for future generations to enjoy, once sold they risk being lost forever.

Difficulties must not stop NI Water from completing work at Kinnegar Lagoons

At polluted Kinnegar Lagoons
Northern Ireland Water must fulfil all commitments to end the pollution problems at Kinnegar Lagoons. NI Water had pledged to complete a £4.5 million scheme by Summer 2016, but have since confirmed the third and final phrase has encountered significant technical difficulties and is unlikely to be completed on time.

The latest update from NI Water is encouraging, but it is disappointing for all involved that the work will fall short at the final hurdle.

After relentless lobbying since 2010, I was delighted to see construction work finally get underway and with a completion date already established.  This gave great hope to many people across Holywood who have had to endure awful odours over the years as a result of the pollution problems at Kinnegar Lagoons.

While it is great to hear work has been completed to address two out of the three overflows considered to be at the source of the problem, the third phase includes tunnelling under the A2 Bangor to Belfast Road and NI Water must overcome any difficulties, allowing them to complete the overall project.

This work won’t only address the odour problems for residents, but will significantly boost the local environment, improving it for future generations.

That’s why, unlike others, we can’t claim victory just yet and I’ll be ensuring pressure remains on NI Water to deliver what was promised.

Muir congratulates Pollock on Rio Olympics selection

Councillor Muir with Dr Paul Pollock
at Queens 5k in 2015
I have congratulated Holywood man Dr Paul Pollock on his selection to take part in the Rio Olympics later this year. Paul has been selected to take part in the Marathon as part of the Irish team which also includes Kevin Seaward and Mick Clohisey.

After some amazing achievements over previous years, including completing the Dublin Marathon as the first Irish Man in 2012 in a blistering 2hrs 16mins 33seconds and then the Berlin Marathon last year in 2hrs 15mins 38seconds I have been delighted to watch Paul’s progress towards Rio. With his foot injury now healed I have every confidence that Paul will be a runway success later this year, bringing yet more joy and pride for his family, friends, the people of Holywood and beyond. I wish him every success and good wishes.

Congratulations Rory McIlroy on Irish Open win

I offer warmest congratulations to Rory McIlroy on his Irish Open Win which is not only a personal success but also a reason for great pride for the people of Holywood and beyond.

His donation of the winning of £515,000 to charity is a testament to his sense of generosity and commitment to those in need.

I will be following up my request that Council explores permanent recognition of Rory’s achievements in Holywood Town Centre this week, keen to ensure we celebrate and remember his great successes.

Battle to secure Cairn Wood’s Future continues

Earlier this year we witnessed people power in action with thousands of people signing the petition I set-up, actively lobbying Councillors to support my motions at Ards and North Down Borough Council and attending a packed Public Meeting in Holywood. 

Just a few days after we presented the Petition to the Northern Ireland Assembly the Minister performed a u-turn, halting the sale and announcing that “the Forest Service has now expressed a strong interest to NI Water in purchasing this site, therefore in line with guidance on the disposal of assets, sale on the open market will no longer be pursued while this interest is explored”.

Whilst we all welcomed minister’s announcement little firm information on future plans has flowed to the public from either NI Water, Department for Regional Development or the Forest Service, despite repeated requests.

With my passion to secure Cairn Wood’s future undiminished I therefore submitted Freedom of Information requests to secure openness and transparency on the issue. The deadline for response was last Friday 27 April but unfortunately a decision has now been made to delay disclosure until after the election. 

Bike Week wheels into Ards & North Down Borough

Bike Week is due to wheel into Ards and North Down after I managed to secure Council support to organise a series of events to encourage cycling.

I brought the motion after previously securing Council support in previous years to celebrate Bike Week which will occur 11 – 19 June 2016. Bike Week 2016 theme is focused upon Cycling to Work

With Brian and Mary before setting off
on Piccolo Fondo Cycle Ride in 2015

As a Honorary Member of North Down Cycling Club and Sustrans Volunteer Ranger, I am delighted to have secured unanimous support of the relevant Council Committee to embrace Bike Week via organising a series of events. Cycling is good both for your body, mind and the environment whilst also a quick and cheap way to get from A to B.

Full steam ahead for Cultra Station Restoration

I am delighted at news plans to restore Cultra Station House have been given the green-light for early May.

I have been leading the campaign to save the well-known local site since 2011 – when the listed building was put up for sale by Ireland’s Bad Bank NAMA. A brighter future is ahead as a result of sustained lobbying and hard work.

Far too often we see historic buildings gradually fall into disrepair, left to whither and fall into ruins until demolished and lost forever due to Health and Safety concerns. Whilst previous plans existed to renovate and convert Cultra Station, but these quickly hit the buffers when the economic crash hit Northern Ireland with Ireland’s Bad Bank NAMA acquiring the property in 2011.

Conlig Reservoirs up for sale

Councillor Muir at Conlig Reservoirs
I am urging Northern Ireland Water to provide more information on the planned sale of Conlig Upper and Lower Reservoirs after discovering that the potential for private sale is actively being explored.

I made contact with NI Water after a local resident approached me with concerns that the Reservoirs could be sold with the much loved open space lost for alternative and potentially unwelcome uses.

In response an NI Water official stated “Within the past few weeks we have had some enquiries regarding the status of the reservoirs, and potential for private sale … NI Water has no plans to sell these reservoirs on the open market.”

I am extremely concerned to learn that NI Water plan to sell these Reservoirs which adjoin major housing areas in Conlig Village and Beechfield. For many years they have open spaces, accessible for all to enjoy, take a stroll or to walk your dog. With a private sale now potentially due to take place behind closed doors an uncertain future beckons for those neighbouring both Reservoirs plus those who enjoy the public spaces.

Muir working to complete Coastal Path upgrade

Whilst work is underway to explore funding to complete upgrade of the North Down Coastal Path, wider plans for a Ards and North Down Greenway have also been announced, linking paths to deliver a Borough wide network.

Councillor Muir at Kinnegar when leading a previous
cycle ride from Holywood to Belfast
I regularly use the North Down Coastal path as a keen runner and was involved in securing upgrade of previous sections along what some describe as North Down’s “Gold Coast” such as the new Boardwalk which replaced the steep steps at Seahill and obtaining 24/7 access between the Kinnegar and Airport Road sectors linking Holywood and Belfast.

Muir expresses Cairn Wood concerns

I have concerns that the assurances recently given concerning the future of Cairn Wood Forest may be hollow after both the Forest Service and the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development have both avoided meeting requests to clarify future plans.

On 26 January we witnessed the Minister for Regional Development step in at the last minute and halt plans to sell Cairn Wood but yet, just over two months later, we are still left in the dark and know nothing more about the possible transfer to the Forest Service.

Ford supports Alliance campaign in Holywood

David Ford at Holywood Library  from left is
Dr Stephen Farry, Councillor Stuart  Anderson,
Larry Thompson, David Ford, Irene Kingston,
Michael Watts and Councillor Andrew Muir
Alliance Leader David Ford has visited Holywood to support the party's local candidates Stephen Farry and Councillor Andrew Muir as they seek to secure two seats for Alliance at the forthcoming Assembly election.

Mr Ford said he was delighted to support the pair while meeting voters in the town.

"Stephen Farry and Andrew Muir are striving to take North Down forward towards a more inclusive future based upon a strong track record of delivery.

"I was extremely encouraged to experience such an unprecedented positive response from the public and local businesses, all of whom are eager to take Northern Ireland forward, faster with Alliance.

"I am confident we will make the breakthrough, electing both Dr Farry and Councillor Muir as strong progressive Alliance MLAs for North Down on 5 May."

New builds for North Down Schools a step closer

Dr Stephen Farry and Councillor
Andrew Muir at Priory Integrated
College, Holywood
New builds for two local integrated schools have moved a step closer, Alliance representatives have said, as they hailed recognition for integrated education in North Down.

With plans for both Priory Integrated College and Bangor Central Primary School earmarked for further support, under a fresh round of funding announced on Tuesday, Stephen Farry MLA and Councillor Andrew Muir said they hoped the move would see the long-overdue new builds become reality.

Stephen Farry MLA said: "While this doesn't automatically guarantee an immediate new build for Priory and Bangor Central, it is the next step in a long-running campaign to enable both schools to meet the strong demand for integrated education in the area.

"Alliance has been at the forefront of campaigning for new builds for both schools, with pupils and teachers suffering unnecessarily in cramped conditions. I hope this is the start of major changes to education provision locally, putting the integrated sector on a level par with other sectors across North Down."

I added: "With initial funding for Priory's new build announced on March 1, 2006, teachers, pupils and parents have had enough of constantly having their hopes dashed and funding withdrawn.

With the planning process for both Priory and Bangor Central now moving a step closer, I hope this will have a knock-on effect to other local schools in need of new premises. Alliance will continue to champion integrated education, giving every family the opportunity to choose integrated education locally.

As a former Pupil of St Columbanus' College, I will also continue our campaign to deliver the long overdue new building for St Columbanus' College which, as a super mixed and positively inclusive college operating in buildings dating back to 1960, desperately deserves similar funding to facilitate a new building."

Muir calls for Fines to be parked

I am calling for the owners of the Omniplex and Oasis Bingo site in Bangor to park fines wrongly issued to users in recent weeks and apologise for the debacle which has seen people fined for non-payment of parking fees despite payment machines being out of order.

I was recently contacted by a constituent angered to receive a Parking Fine when using the Bangor Omniplex and Oasis Bingo site. With parking machines out of order for weeks and covered in large bags detailing “Not in Use” the local resident was perplexed to receive a fine but felt a sense of hope that the matter would be amicably addressed via the appeals mechanism.

Despite outlining the situation, the appeal was not successful with the fine then increased and sold onto Debt collectors. After learning about this situation I immediately sought to contact both the Parking Enforcement company and the Cinema but, to date, no reply has been received with the increased fine remaining and debt collection agencies perusing the customer without hesitation.

I have already explored how Council could assist in relation to this matter but with the site leased by North Down Borough Council to Omniplex (NI) Ltd on a 999 year lease this avenue is not unfortunately available.

Rather than leaving the matter to be resolved in the courts I would urge the Omniplex to avoid any further reputational damage and both waive the fines issued and apologise to those affected. It is entirely unacceptable that customers should be fined and chased by Debt collectors for non-payment when payment machines are clearly non-operational.

Time to stop legitimisation of paramilitaries

Letter below published in County Down Spectator on Thursday 10 March 2016.

I write in response to recent reports concerning the situation within Clandeboye Village and the influence of Paramilitaries. For far too long local communities across North Down and beyond have been forced to live under the influence of illegal terrorist organisations whose only focus is control of the areas and progressing their criminal activities such as drug dealing, racketeering and extortion.

Last year following the erection of paramilitary flags in the Clandeboye area local people courageously stepped forward and requested their removal. The response from statutory bodies, including the Police, sadly followed previously failed approach, suggesting dialogue and discussions rather than respecting the will of the vast majority of people across North Down who desire immediate and prompt removal of such flags which demonstrate support for proscribed terrorist organisations who have murdered and maimed hundreds.

Alliance Conference 2016 Speech - North Down deserves better, forward, faster

As President of the Alliance Party I chaired our 46th Annual Conference on Saturday 5 March 2016, below is abridged version of my opening address:

We are gathered here today less than nine weeks away from what could be a momentous Assembly election.

Short 2 minute Alliance Broadcast with message from 
Naomi Long, Deputy Leader

I’ll talk a little bit more about this election and also the forthcoming Brexit Referendum in a minute but first I feel it’s important to put on record my thanks to all those MLAs who have decided not to pursue re-election on the 5th May.

Delivering openness and transparency

I am proud to have again placed greater openness and transparency on the agenda, this time focused upon obtaining full disclosure when it comes to their Councillor's interests but ensuring that all Declarations of Interest are published on Ards and North Down Borough Council's website.
The Alliance Party continues to put openness and transparency at the heart of local government, something which up until now other parties have continually blocked.
Declarations of Interest are already available in hard copy, but this requires people to visit Bangor Castle and I believe this is a service that should be available online.
Not only will this allow the public to have full confidence in decisions being made - especially with local government having increased planning powers - but the move would also highlight those Councillors who have so far failed to declare their relevant interests.
I am delighted Council unanimously agreed to support my proposal.
Openness and transparency is essential in order for the public to have full confidence in the decisions made by their elected politicians. If ratified this will enable the general public to easily find out who's involved with what, marking another small step forward in my campaign to end the culture of secrecy that too often surrounds politics in Northern Ireland.

Historic Gate Lodge ready for restoration

Councillor Muir at Craigowen Lodge
Work is moving ahead to restore an historic Gate Lodge which has been left abandoned for many years due to an aborted road improvement scheme along the busy Belfast to Bangor road. Planning Permission has now been granted for redevelopment with transfer of ownership and a funding application underway to enable works to commence.

I welcome this news after campaigning to secure a brighter future for the building over the last number of years.

Designed by Thomas Turner, a pupil of Sir Charles Lanyon, Craigowen Lodge was built in 1851 and sits close to the Seahill junction on the A2 dual carriageway between Cultra and Ballyrobert. Considered to be an example of the Italianate style of architecture, approximately 40,000 vehicles pass the dilapidated building each day with a tin roof now in place following an arson attempt a few years ago.  

Cultra Station Restoration Project back on track

Larry Thompson and Councillor Muir at Cultra Station
I am delighted that the project to restore old Cultra Railway Station is now back on track with the developer who is progressing restoration plans outlining that work should hopefully commence in Spring 2016.

Larry Thompson and I formed a campaign to save the building in 2011 when the listed building fell into a perilous state and was put on the market by Ireland’s bad bank NAMA.

For the last number of years Larry and I have been working to see Cultra Railway Station restored to its original glory. Whether it was lobbying NAMA via Dominic Hannigan TD to secure the sale or engaging with Planning Department officials to secure Planning Permission after a long bureaucratic saga we’ve been working hard to see the building restored. I am therefore delighted to learn that work will hopefully commence soon. I have a real passionate desire to see this building restored in the knowledge that far too many buildings have fallen into disrepair and eventually demolished. I will therefore continue to show an interest in this issue and provide necessary assistance until we see people living in the newly restored building.

Muir speeding up eCar provision

Two cars being charged at Quay Street, Bangor
I welcome news that an additional eCar Charger Bay will be provided in Bangor Town Centre in response to my request and in light of increased demand over recent months.

I have been campaigning in recent months for an additional eCar Charger Bay at Quay Street whilst also successfully getting the eCar charger commissioned for use at Bangor Aurora after being left out of order for many months since installation in July 2015.

I would like to commend the tenacity of those eCar users who have relentlessly campaigned to raise need for the additional eCar Charger Bay at Quay Street, highlighting increased usage and the economic benefits with a number of eCar users travelling to Bangor to shop or visit local eateries but denied ability to re-charge their vehicle due to lack of two eCar charge bay spaces.

Muir gets tough on graffiti

I have secured a tougher approach to the issue of graffiti from Ards and North Down Borough Council after successfully amending proposed new policy on how to handle the matter.

Councillors were presented with a proposed policy at the recent Environment Committee on Wednesday 6 January 2016 but following a proposal from myself the document has been amended and strengthened to deal with all types of graffiti which can blight local areas across the Borough.

Whilst I was glad that the original policy contained actions to deal with graffiti which is considered to be offensive or sectarian, or in some other way is liable to give rise to community tension, I was disappointed that little detail was provided on how the new Council proposed to deal with non-offensive graffiti on private property. 

Muir continues Cairn Wood Campaign

Councillor Muir at Cairn Wood
Forest with dog Jock
I am continuing the campaign to ensure Cairn Wood remains in public ownership with the tranquil nature unaltered by requesting a meeting with Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA to discuss transfer arrangements for Forest Service announced in haste last week at the eleventh hour just before I was about to bring issue to full Ards and North Down Borough Council meeting at Bangor Castle.

The meeting has been requested after last week’s announcement from Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA who, in response to nearly 3,000 signatures on the Petition I set-up, suspended sale of the site with a Forest Service spokesperson outlining plans to transfer the site to Forestry.

Whilst I welcome Minister McIlveen’s last minute u-turn to suspend sale in response to a strong and vocal campaign, I am determined to secure the long term future for Cairn Wood within public hands. With a distinct lack of details of the proposed transfer to Forest Service, I am working with my colleague Chris Lyttle MLA in seeking a meeting with the Minister responsible for Forest Service to provide necessary reassurance for all concerned, whether it’s walkers and runners who use Cairn Wood or Anglers using Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir. Chris recently raised this matter at the NI Assembly and presented the petition to the Minister in recent weeks.

I will not relent in my desire to ensure a secure future for all environmental assets in North Down that face prospect of sale or destruction, whether it be Cairn Wood, Kinnegar Lagoons in Holywood or local beaches, our environment should be treasured, protected and sympathetically enhanced not sold and destroyed.

Muir delivers Ministerial action to save Cairn Wood

Councillor Muir at Cairn Wood Forest
I am delighted to learn that the Regional Development Minister has bowed to public pressure, suspending sale of a local reservoir and surrounding land, after she announced on Tuesday 26 January 2016 the sale of Ballysallagh Upper reservoir and adjacent land at Cairn Wood forest has been put on hold.

In comes in the wake of a campaign run to save the area from sale. A public petition set up by myself, which was handed to the Minister last week, now has almost 3,000 signatures to date.

Earlier today, Alliance colleague Chris Lyttle MLA and I met Minister McIlveen, again impressing the importance of a prompt intervention. I am delighted that a few hours later the sale has been halted.

At the beginning of this campaign, those who wanted to prevent the sale of Cairn Wood Forest and the surrounding land said we would not just stand by and allow it to take place. I am delighted the Minister has finally listened, taken on-board the views of the thousands of people who signed the petition and made this decision, despite her initially informing us she could do nothing about the issue.

Whilst disappointed it took such a vigorous campaign, nearly 3,000 signatures for my petition and sustained lobbying from many people, I am glad to see people power deliver, albeit at the eleventh hour just before I was about to bring a motion to Ards and North Down Borough Council seeking support for Councillors to intervene and stop the sale

The campaign is however not over. We need the option of a sale to the highest bidder to be permanently removed, full details on proposed transfer to Forest Service and the area kept in its natural tranquil state.

Information provided today by the Forest Service stating "The land already makes a considerable contribution to public recreation in the area, and the business case will need to establish the role of recreational partner providers in line with the well established partnership approach adopted elsewhere with local councils” needs further clarification without delay in order to avoid any concerns that the tranquil nature of the site may be lost.

Press Release received from Department for Regional Development Press Office below for information

Council gets second chance to Save Cairn Wood

I am profoundly disappointed that Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen has thus far refused to act to save Cairn Wood Forest, an environmental haven and popular amenity spot used by many from across North Down, Ards, East Belfast and beyond. Minister McIlveen is standing idly by despite surge in public support to stop Sale of Cairn Wood Forest with over 2,700 people signing the Petition calling upon the Minister to halt the sale, including, it seems, her own colleague Jim Shannon MP and support from Ards and North Down Borough Council for my motion urging the Minister to act.

With Minister McIlveen unwilling to save Cairn Wood I am determined to explore every avenue to stop Cairn Wood being sold to the highest bidder. I have therefore submitted a Motion giving Ards and North Down Borough Council a second chance to Save Cairn Wood by expressing an interest in acquiring. This follows previous attempt by the Alliance Party in December 2014 calling upon the Council to explore costs and issues associated with acquiring Reservoirs and adjoining lands offered for sale by NI Water. 

My motion will be debated at full Council meeting in Bangor Castle next Tuesday 26 January 2016 from 7pm, if Mayor deems issue urgent and permits debate on the night. With real concerns sale could be concluded soon I would urge all Councillors to vote for the motion. With the Minister disinterested and sale plans being pursued apace, unless Council acts this amazing asset could be lost forever. 

At the very least the Minister could act and allow Council to pursue these plans without having to worry about sale being closed in the near future. I plead with her to let Council exercise this second chance without worry of being gazumped and watching this valuable asset being lost forever.

With Northern Ireland one of the lowest levels of tree cover across all of Europe we should be expanding our forests not letting NI Water to pursue a short sighted get rich quick plan to sell Northern Ireland’s family silver to top-up government coffers. 

Motion wording: “That this Council expresses with immediate effect an interest to Northern Ireland Water in acquiring Cairn Wood Forest (Plot 2 of Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir & Adjoining Lands, Craigantlet, BT23 4TE currently for sale) with request to Northern Ireland Water that opportunity is given to make an offer once valuation, Economic Appraisal and due diligence completed, considered by Council and decision made whether to make an offer. Valuation of the site, completion of an Economic Appraisal and other due diligence to be completed without delay if Northern Ireland Water consents to above.”

Cairn Wood Petition goes directly to the Minister

With Alliance Party colleagues and campaigners
at Parliament Buildings, Belfast prior to presentation
of the Save Cairn Wood Petition
I took the campaign to save Cairn Wood from sale today (Tuesday 19 January 2016) to the Northern Ireland Assembly with the Petition I set-up in early December 2015 calling on the Department for Regional Development Minister Michele McIIveen MLA to remove Cairn Wood from sale gathering over 2,500 signatures, ensuring local voices heard as the campaign to save the much treasured local resource continues.

You can still sign the petition and let your voice be heard at https://www.change.org/p/minister-for-regional-development-minister-for-regional-development-michelle-mcilveen-mla-save-cairn-wood-forest

Today my colleague Chris Lyttle submitted the petition directly to the Minister in the Assembly, making it clear local people won’t stand idly by while Cairn Wood is sold and disposed to the highest bidder.

I’m grateful to the 2,500 plus people who have signed the petition and the many who have been vocal on the ground since the Minister’s plan became clear in November.

Now is the time for action.  The Minister has made it clear she expects the sale to be concluded within weeks, but she can’t ignore the voices of a community determined to protect Cairn Wood.

With NI Water determined to sell off Cairn Wood to the highest bidder, the Minister must instruct that the site is removed from sale and instead return it to the public to be enjoyed by all.

I look forward to the public meeting on Friday and I’ll be pursuing other avenues to keep this valuable asset within public hands.

Chris Lyttle MLA added: “I was delighted to formally submit this petition on behalf of everyone in North Down and surrounding area who get much use and enjoyment out of Cairn Wood.

“I am also adding my voice to call on the Minister to do what she can to save this valuable asset used by dog walkers, families, mountain bikers and ramblers alike.”

Muir in driving seat for more eCar spaces

Councillor Muir at eCar Charging Bay
Quay Street, Bangor
I am delighted government authorities have finally commissioned the new eCar charge point at Bangor Aurora after prolonged lobbying and hope they will now grant my request for an additional eCar charging point bay at the popular Quay Street location in Bangor after being contacted by many users disappointed they can’t recharge their car due to lack of eCar parking bays.

With regards to the eCar charging point at Bangor Aurora Leisure Centre, despite installation taking place in July 2015 and assurance from the Minister for Regional Development that all sites installed were now commissioned the eCar Fast Charging Point at Bangor Aurora was only commissioned for use on Monday 18 January 2016 after prolonged lobbying and correspondence on the issue. Only to see the point go live now was a scandalous waste of public money but hopefully lessons have been learnt and this will not re-occur. 

Single eCar Charging Bay at Quay
Street, Bangor despite charger
capable of charging two vehicles
With regards to the eCar Charge Point at Quay Street, Bangor, since the installation of this charging point a number of years ago Electric Car ownership has increased and consequently number of people using Charging points located across Northern Ireland. With the Quay Street eCar charging point offering ability to charge two vehicles at once but only one dedicated eCar Parking Bay, users are often contacting me to detail their frustration at not being able to charge up due to the other bays being occupied by conventional vehicles.

With all day parking also permitted at this location, the other nearby bays are often occupied for the entire day by conventional cars, thereby putting 50% of the charging point out of action with facility to charge two vehicles inhibited. I would therefore urge the Department for Regional Development to designate two eCar Charging Bays rather than merely one as currently available.

Council backs Motion urging Minister to stop sale of Cairn Wood Forest

Councillor Muir at Cairn Wood Forest
I have now secured the support of Ards and North Down Borough Council as part of my on-going campaign against the sale of Cairn Wood Forest.

Councillors united behind my motion at the Corporate Services Committee on Tuesday 12 January 2016, urging DRD Minister Michele McIIveen to immediately instruct NI Water to remove Cairn Wood from sale, leaving it in public hands.

The Council meeting comes after I launched a petition which has gathered over 2,000 signatures – which is set to be presented to the Minister at the Assembly next Tuesday 19 January 2016. Come along and support us at 10am at Parliament Buildings, Stormont! 

NI Water is determined to sell off Cairn Wood to the highest bidder, a move which DRD Minister Michelle McIIveen is completely compliant with.

Left up to them, this fantastic asset used by dog walkers, mountain bikers, ramblers and many other will be lost forever and all for what seems to be no more than a plan for NI Water to make some easy money with a uncertain future ahead for Cairn Wood and real worries about what site could be used for.

You only have to look at the numbers who have signed my petition – only launched at the start of December 2015, but with already over to 2,000 signatures – including it seems the DUP’s own Jim Shannon MP.

Local people have made it clear, Cairn Wood is a resource to be treasured and they aren’t prepared to stand back and allow NI Water and the DRD Minister take it away from them.  Everyone is invited to come along to show their support for the campaign to stop the sale of Cairn Wood at Parliament Buildings, Stormont next Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 10am when the petition will be presented by my colleague Mr Chris Lyttle MLA.

As one person who has signed the petition stated ‘Once sold never retrieved. Sell in haste and regret at leisure’.