Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Muir slams news another Post Box lost in the mail

I am working hard to resolve yet another Post Box debacle Royal Mail after learning that yet another Post Box in the Holywood area has been removed but with promises it will be replaced nearby.

The front door of the historic Post Box at Seafront Road, Cultra was removed shortly before the Easter Holidays by Royal Mail citing corrosion with replacement plans rather unclear until local residents and Councillor Muir intervened.

Following on from the ongoing debacle concerning the removal of Post Box at Station Road, Craigavad I was appalled to learn from local residents just before the Easter break that yet another Post Box had been removed.

With the Post Box at Seafront Road a unique Victorian box which regularly attracts attention of passers-by, forming part of a listed building and also enjoying a good level of usage I have been working hard to resolve the situation.

Investigations have unearthed news that the door was removed due to corrosion and since it is now found to be beyond repair for continued usage a new plan secured.

The historic box will be restored to its original beauty but decommissioned for use and, in order to avoid any confusion, painted black as per arrangement which has already received stamp of approval from English Heritage.

A new post box for public use will also be located nearby, following receipt of necessary approvals from Transport NI.

With local people exasperated following recent events at Station Road I intend to monitor this issue carefully to ensure these commitments are fulfilled and Holywood gets the First Class service it deserves from Royal Mail.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Refurbished Cultra Station House timetabled to arrive on time

Cllr Muir and Larry Thompson RIBA at
refurbished Cultra Station House
I gained a sneak preview of the refurbishment work underway at old Cultra Station House last Friday 7 April 2017 visiting the building along with retired Alliance Councillor, Conservation Architect and Chair of Holywood Conservation Group Larry Thompson RIBA and am able to report significant progress with refurbishment works timetabled to complete by Summer 2017.

Dating back to 1897, Cultra Station House was listed in 2007 when threated with demolition but remained in an awful state of disrepair until recently. A Condition Survey commissioned in 2012 stated ‘it would likely prove more economically viable to demolish and rebuild the property’

After years of relentless lobbying I was delighted to see the building restored to its full glory. Whilst the campaign nearly hit the buffers on a number of occasions, whether due to bureaucratic officialdom from the Planning Service or attitude of the previous owners (Ireland’s bad bank NAMA) both Larry and I kept the project on track and are delighted to see the project come to fruition.

Careful restoration work undertaken has helped bring the building back to life with traditional exterior contrasted by impressive interiors to deliver two spacious units within the old Station House sensitively complimented by three additional units within the site. It will be fantastic to see people living in a building previously on the brink of demolition.

I am particularly grateful to NI Environment Agency, Holywood Conservation Group, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, former TD Dominic Hannigan and the many other interested people and groups who helped ensure it was full steam ahead for the Save Cultra Station House campaign. Once complete it will be fantastic testament to fact that hard work and determination delivers.

Cultra Station House was built in 1897 assumed to be designed by G.P. Culverwell. The property was built in typical decorative red brick late Victorian fashion.

The property consists of a listed building partially two storey and partially single storey positioned to the side of the railway tracks at Cultra. The two storey portion of the property was originally living accommodation for the station master and the single storey portion was the area for waiting, ticket collection and other areas associated with a railway station.

Property has been a private dwelling since at least 1937 and in private ownership since 1957, vacated 1970s when it fell into disrepair, vandalised and used for anti-social behaviour.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Muir steps up campaign for Craigavad Post Box

I have stepped up his campaign to secure a replacement post box for residents of Station Road, Craigavad.

The area has been missing a Post Box since a freak accident with a lorry damaged the original box beyond repair – yet Royal Mail has to date refused to replace it, despite many petition signatures and letters of support from local residents.

Ards and North Down Borough Council will now formally write to Royal Mail, requesting they reconsider that decision, after Councillor Muir’s campaign was backed unanimously at the recent Council meeting.

“What might seem like a trivial issue to some is causing great inconvenience for many residents, who are being forced to travel further to access the same service through no fault of their own.

Whilst Royal Mail have consistently dug their feet in and refused to listen to the concerns of local residents, I’ve continued to push on their behalf and I’m delighted to now have the full backing of my Council colleagues.

We should never underestimate the changes that we can make and I look forward to hearing Royal Mail’s formal response plus the Postal Review Panel who I have also written to asking for their support.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Muir welcomes re-opening of Bangor Road, Holywood

I welcome the re-opening of Bangor Road, Holywood after the long running 1 Stewart’s Place listed building saga since it partially collapsed in July last year resulting in then full and then partial closure of the busy Bangor Road.

I am very pleased my persistence and perseverance has finally delivered results for Holywood residents, traders and visitors alike with Bangor Road, Holywood now fully re-opened and 1 Stewart's Place listed building secured and ready for restoration works.

Since the partial collapse in July 2016 local businesses, residents and visitors had to endure great inconvenience whilst the building was disgracefully left to deteriorate. Throughout this period I have been relentlessly campaigning for a prompt solution, pushing the Council and other statutory agencies to intervene whilst also pressurising the previous owners to act. Thankfully the new owner has been swift in their response with the building now fully secured and road re-opened only weeks after they purchased the building. I look forward to meeting them in the weeks ahead to discuss developments and the hopefully much brighter future ahead for this historic building.”

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.

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.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Let's change our politics for good on 2 March

Councillor Muir and Dr Stephen Farry
 2 March voters will go to the polls for the Northern Ireland Assembly Election following the collapse of the DUP / Sinn Fein Executive only months after promising a ‘Fresh Start’.

I am looking forward to voting Alliance for my friend, colleague and Party Deputy Leader Dr Stephen Farry who is the Alliance Party candidate in North Down.

I hope people will do likewise choosing hope over fear, grasping the opportunity to change our politics for good towards a more progressive and liberal future for everyone.

After only recently commencing my new job I am not on the ticket this time but have been working hard to secure re-election of Stephen and continuing to work with the same passion and vigour as local Councillor for Holywood & Clandeboye and Alliance Party Group Leader on Ards & North Down Borough Council.

A strong Alliance vote and the re-election of Dr Stephen Farry is vital if we are to secure a new Assembly which heralds change, for good. Without a strong commitment to respect, equality, reconciliation, partnership working and reform of the Petition of Concern veto which has blocked many measures public confidence in the Assembly risks falling even further. Only by voting Farry 1 will we help ensure and end to dogma, deadlock and sickening bigotry espoused for far too long.

Commenting on the issue, Stephen Farry remarked: “Our politics is badly broken, with an absence of openness and accountability, cronyism and corruption, deadlock and missed opportunities. The Renewable Heat Initiative crystallised these problems, but they run much deeper. This is bigger than problems with the DUP and Sinn Fein partnership, it is a weakness of Orange and Green politics.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Muir returns Craigavad Post Box stalemate to sender

Cllr Muir at previous site of Post Box
I am planning to return the Craigavad Post Box stalemate to the sender by submitting a Motion seeking Council support for my campaign to get Royal Mail reinstate the popular Post Box at Station Road, Craigavad.

Craigavad has been without a Post Box for the last few months after a freak accident which saw a lorry collide with the red box. Since then many people have signed the petition I initiated and forwarded numerous letters of support but to no avail with Royal Mail remaining intransigent and refusing to replace the popular facility despite the kind offer by a local resident to accommodate a new replacement Post Box on their Station Road property near where the box was originally located.

Royal Mail’s recent announcement of plans to install 300 new boxes across Northern Ireland merely added insult to injury and confirmation of a ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ strategy with Craigavad left to suffer whilst others get a brand new red boxes.  Suggestion that local people now travel back in time to the Ulster Folk Museum to post a letter is frankly ludicrous.  

With Royal Mail unwilling to meet to discuss the issue I am determined to break the stalemate and have therefore lodged a Motion for discussion at Ards and North Down Borough Council, calling upon the Council to write to Royal Mail requesting replacement of the Post Box. I hope all other Councillors will be able to give my motion the stamp of approval, Royal Mail reconsiders their stance and gives the people of Craigavad the First Class service they deserve.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Foundations laid for historic gatelodge’s refurb

Councillor Muir at Craigowen Lodge
warmly welcome news the Historic Gate Lodge beside the busy A2 Bangor to Belfast Road at Seahill has been formally purchased by a Housing Association with restoration soon to commence.

I have been campaigning to save the building for the last number of years since it fell into disrepair after being previously vested by the Roads Service as part of a previous road upgrade which never materialised.

After lobbying the Roads and Housing Ministers for the last number of years to save this listed building I am delighted to learn that Clanmill Housing Association's Hearth Heritage Division have now purchased Craigowen Lodge with plans to restore the building now forming part of their 2017/18 Programme.

With Planning Permission already in place finalisation of funding remains the only possible stumbling block plus any unforeseen statutory issues which I hope can be quickly addressed.

I have therefore written to the Finance Minister to ensure funding is provided and hope the year ahead will mark yet another Built Heritage success story to be enjoyed both by future residents and passing commuters.

Craigowen Lodge is a single storey listed building in Italianate style. Built in 1851 and designed by Thomas Turner, a previous pupil of architect Charles Lanyon.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Muir welcomes plans to save Stewart's Place Holywood

1 Stewart's Place in derelict state
Lacuna Developments has been confirmed as new owners of 1 Stewart's Place, Holywood who have described the building as a "key gateway to the seaside town's High Street" and committed to works to get the road re-opened and building secured. The site acquired includes the former Old Priory Inn and 1 Stewart's Place, a listed building.

In response, I have welcomed the news. After relentlessly campaigning on this issue since structural problems started to appear in June last year I warmly welcome news the new owners plan to take prompt action to get the road re-opened and hopefully save the historic building which is perilously close to collapse after years of neglect by the previous owner.  
I have already made contact with the new owners and hope to meet with them in the weeks ahead along with representatives of Holywood Conservation Group to discuss the way forward. With a structural engineer from London with a conservation background, project architect, conservation architect and planning consultant already engaged and the new owners seemingly willing to make the necessary investment I am cautiously optimistic that Holywood traders will soon be able to get back to business following months of needless disruption which has also inconvenienced local residents and visitors alike.

A more hopeful future also seems at last be ahead for the listed building which ought to be in the same condition as its nearby twin Number 3 Stewart's Place which is in pristine condition following previous intervention when also at risk of downfall. Time will tell whether it can be saved.

Managing Director, Anthony Best has stated:

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Progress at last for 1 Stewart's Place saga

1 Stewart's Place, Holywood
Ever since problems started to arise with the structural integrity of 1 Stewart’s Place in June last year I have been relentlessly campaigning for a prompt solution. Following partial collapse in July 2016 local businesses, residents and visitors have had to endure full and then partial closure of the busy Bangor Road, damaging trade and causing great inconvenience whilst building left to deteriorate and home to an infestation of rats which has caused misery for local householders.

I am therefore encouraged to learn that new owners of the building seem willing to engage to fix the historic building and get the road re-opened as soon as possible. This does however have to be tapered with previous experience which has been characterised by foot dragging and broken promises which has left many people rightly angry. 

Following my previous proposal that Council explore all options to get the road re-opened I was glad to see the Council’s Environment Committee recently receive a comprehensive report detailing a range of avenues available to get the issue sorted. Whilst seek to meet with the new owners I intend to follow up on this report and hopefully get deadlines for initiation of the various options to prevent any further drift. The time for action has long passed with deadlines vital to get things moving and new owner forced to sort what’s sadly fast become known as Holywood’s House from Hell.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Muir continues battle to end Stewart's Place saga

1 Stewart's Place, Holywood
I am continuing the battle to end the saga associated with 1 Stewart’s Place, Holywood which has remained in a perilous state of dereliction since July last year, resulting in the closure of the adjacent Bangor Road.

After successfully bringing my proposal to Council late last year requesting officers urgently bring back a report on options available for statutory intervention to enable full re-opening of Bangor Road further developments have occurred. I understand that the site has now been sold and specialists engaged by the new owners to examine how the building may by fixed with plans now due to the submitted which will result in the road being fully re-opened. Officers are also actively considering serving a notice requiring action to address the condition of the building within a specified period of time.

Whilst these developments are welcome I am not relenting and have also been pressurising Transport NI to exert their influence as the authority permitting partial closure of the road. A further report on the range of options available to Council will be tabled in the weeks ahead including hopefully the option to service an Urgent Works Notice which would involve Council directly intervening to fix the building and then billing the owner. Together via this wide range of actions I hope to see resolution of this disgraceful saga which has resulted in great inconvenience for local residents, visitors and detrimental impact upon local traders. Holywood has had enough and needs the road re-opened and building sorted without any more delay and buck passing.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Muir delighted Kinnegar sewage solution delivered

Councillor Muir at Kinnegar Lagoons
I welcome the completion of the works at Kinnegar designed to improve sewerage infrastructure in Holywood and eliminate notoriously pungent smell.

Work along the Belfast Road in Holywood was completed on December 15, with a combined sewer overflow diverted away from Kinnegar Lagoons and the new waste water pumping station becoming fully operational.

I first started this campaign nearly seven years ago in response to the awful stench of sewage affecting nearby residents and passing road and rail traffic but I am now hopeful the completed work will mean the frequency and severity of odours coming from the lagoons will be reduced dramatically. It has been a long journey to reach this point involving lobbying NI Water, respective Government Ministers and getting the EU Environment Commissioner involved but through hard work and dogged determination I managed to secure £4.5million funding and get the works undertaken.

I want to thank all the statutory agencies which have worked to secure this scheme and local people who endured the disruption whilst works occurred. As well as having a positive impact on the environment, local people will hope this move will bring them comfort. I expect this will provide the much-needed relief they deserve. Assurances have also been received that the Kinnegar Lagoons will be enabled to return to the original state following the disgraceful pollution which NI Water allowed to occur destroying the scenic habitat previously enjoyed by a wide range of wildlife.

NI Water updates below: