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.