Friday, 28 September 2018

Alliance bitterly disappointed as motion for LGBT equality is overturned

Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker and I have expressed our bitter disappointment after plans to express support for local LGBT people were overturned on Wednesday 26 September 2018 evening.

Passed at committee earlier this month, the plans would have seen the Council pledge that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are accepted and valued as equal citizens and that Ards Town Hall be lit up in Rainbow Colours to coincide with Pride Day.

This is a real blow to all who believe true equality should not be this hard to achieve in 2018, especially after the recent words of support from Arlene Foster which have now proven to be very hollow.

This motion was about to making a positive difference to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people across our borough, letting them know they are accepted and valued as equal citizens. But instead, those who moved to quash this motion have sent a negative signal that Ards and North Down Council is not dedicated to working for all.

I am extremely grateful to all those who backed this motion, especially in the wake of intense criticism as others have sought to play politics with people's lives and also to the Rainbow Project and Stonewall for their help in drafting the motion, which included lighting of Ards Town Hall in rainbow colours to coincide with Pride Day.

Councillor Gavin Walker added: "As the father of a gay man, I find it upsetting that some of my council colleagues have taken such a decision - essentially signalling they do not value my son's contribution to our society. It is completely unacceptable that anyone should be made to feel different, but to be made to feel so by politicians who are supposed to stand up for everyone cannot be allowed to continue.

"As a Council we had the power to send a strong signal, to make a change that would have brought comfort and support to so many. All those who voted against this have made an uninformed decision."

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Muir expresses concern at reducing Air Quality in Holywood

With Air Quality affecting everyone across the Borough I was keen to ensure the new Council got the same regular updates as we used to get at the old legacy North Down Borough Council. I therefore requested tabling of the reports for review by Councillors and, in turn, members of the public on the Council’s website. 

I would like to thank officers for agreeing to do this and whilst Air Quality levels are generally satisfactory across the Borough I am concerned to learn that Air Quality levels have been reducing over the last number of years along the A2 near Holywood Town Centre. Whilst officers feel that objective levels will not be exceeded the risk that levels further increase is real especially with further development planned to occur in vicinity. 

I will be closely monitoring the situation which proves yet again the need for government to promote and adequately fund sustainable transport solutions to reduce the volume of traffic and thereby pollution created

Monday, 17 September 2018

Rainbow Colours to hopefully shine after proposal passed at Council Committee

Ards and North Down Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker and I have welcomed a recent decision by an Ards and North Down Borough Council Committee to back our proposal affirming that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people be accepted and valued as equal citizens with Ards Town Hall to be lit up in Rainbow Colours to coincide with Pride Day.

I presented this motion in the hope that we could make a positive difference to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living, working or visiting our Borough and am therefore delighted to have secured backing of the relevant Council Committee in affirming that LGBT people should be accepted and valued just like everyone else.

I am extremely grateful to all those who supported this motion and sincerely hope that Council will ratify this decision and let Ards and North Down Borough Council make history as the first Council in Northern Ireland to back such a pledge making it clear that nobody should feel that being LGBT is something to be disappointed about or ashamed of.

Full Council meeting will occur on the evening of Wednesday 26 September from 7pm where members of the public can attend and hopefully witness passing of this positive decision.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Muir secures transparency concerning Councillor attendance statistics

Ards and North Down Borough Council is set to publish attendance statistics of all elected representatives, after an Alliance motion secured the latest move towards full openness and transparency.

I managed to secure unanimous support for the plans – which will be updated on a quarterly basis going forward – since ratepayers’ deserved to know attendance rates for their elected representatives. The decision reached at the Council's Corporate Committee is now subject to formal ratification by full Council on 26 September 2018.

When elected, Councillors have a responsibility to not only articulate the concerns of their constituents, but to ensure good governance within the Council. This is primarily done by engaging with officers via the established Committee structure and full Council meetings, reviewing papers, asking questions, debating the issues and reaching decisions. Whilst simply attending meetings is not the only measure by which we should judge Councillor performance, actually being in the building, ready to work is a starting point, except, of course, if the Councillor has legitimate reason to be absent.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Bangor by the Sea - Tenx9 Story 10 August 2018

"Bangor by the Sea" delivered to Tenx9 Open House Festival Bangor Event on Friday 10 August 2018.

As someone born and bred in Bangor the beach and our bay is something I have many memories of.

Whether it’s the closing down sale at Barry’s Amusements and my sister holding onto the Panda ride with grim death after mistakenly being told by our Uncle Alan she could have it, or watching people jump from the Pier in the summer sun whilst tins of Tennents were drank and music belted out from new fangled technology known as Ghetto Blasters which required an inordinate amount of D size batteries, enough perhaps to power a scooter nowadays!

Granny Peggy with my Sister Nadine
Bangor Bay is a place where I have many great memories.

Sailing around the bay on one of Lairds Boats was a pleasure I only enjoyed once, heading to visit Jenny Watts cave without lifejackets, of course, and returning empty handed without any of the treasure that apparently lies at the end of the cave.

Swimming in Pickie Pool was not something I ever had the fortune, or misfortune, to experience unlike others with only one close shave after my grandfather decided to take me to Pickie after finding out the heated pool at Bangor Castle Leisure Centre was closed.

The sense of elation I felt after discovering Pickie was also closed for the evening is still something I can recall!

Pickie has now been demolished to make way for the Council’s grand seafront development plan with the appearance of a marina, playpark, mini train and a fountain, which often spurts bubbles with a little help of some washing up liquid. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Alliance urges Ards & North Down to support Pride

Ards and North Down Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker and myself have urged people from across Ards and North Down to come out for change and support the Belfast Pride Parade which will take place this year on Saturday 4 August 2018 at 1pm from Custom House Square.

Speaking in advance of the Parade, Councillor Walker stated “Northern Ireland has thankfully travelled a long way since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1982 towards a much more modern, open, inclusive and accepting society. Lots has been achieved through the steadfast commitment of many courageous LGBT people but much more change needs to occur. That’s why I am calling upon people across our Borough to support the Pride Festival and Parade on Saturday which is aptly themed this year as ‘Come out for Change’. Together we can make Belfast Pride Parade the biggest ever, showing our collective commitment to celebrate diversity and demand equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans citizens”.

As the campaign for change builds I have been humbled and delighted to see more and more people like Councillor Walker coming out for change proving that Northern Ireland has changed, for good. In addition to making our call for people to attend Pride we have also submitted a positive proposal which will be considered by Ards and North Down Borough Council in September calling for the Council to affirm that all lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people should be accepted and valued as equal citizens and asking officers to explore potential events to fulfil this pledge. We hope all other Councillors will be able to get behind our motion and stand together in solidarity in support of LGBT people.

In relation to the recent hate incident in Bangor where a homophobic note was received after a 11 year old displayed a Rainbow Flag in her bedroom window my views are that events such like this merely re-emphasise need for everyone in political life to stand up for equality, diversity and against both discrimination and hate. Representing all the colours of the rainbow, the Pride Flag is a positive vibrant celebration of diversity. Display of the Pride Flag reflects an open, diverse, outward looking society and should never result in such a hateful note. Like many others I am looking forward to Belfast Pride as both a positive celebration of diversity and call for equality. I hope that this proves to be an isolated incident within a Borough that I am proud to call home where the overwhelming majority of people in Ards and North Down are warm, welcoming, inclusive and accepting of people regardless of sexuality.”

Motion tabled and to be debated at Council Corporate Committee on 11 September 2018: Proposed by Councillor Muir and seconded by Councillor Walker: “That this Council acknowledged the positive contribution that diversity brings to our communities and accordingly affirms that all lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people living, working or visiting our Borough should be accepted and valued as equal citizens as part of a safe, welcoming and inclusive society. Council consequently requests that officers explore how we can positively fulfil this pledge including via suitable events.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Muir: Council must take responsibility to safeguard local events

Ards and North Down Council is to assess how a new law regarding special events on roads could affect some of the area's most popular gatherings.
At the recent Ards and North Down Council Environment Committee meeting I decided to tackle the issue after concerns raised around the future of a number of events such Holywood May Fair Maypole dancing and races including Ards Half Marathon where the new obligations played a role in decision to cancel the event in 2018.
The new law means it is up to the relevant authority to authorise and approve the use of roads for events with significant costs arising thereby putting key local events into jeopardy.
As a local Council it is our responsibility to safeguard our must-loved local events, promote active living and encouraging charitable fundraising. Whilst May Pole dancing for the Holywood May Fair was given a temporary reprieve this year via a last minute compromise we need to find a fairer and more sustainable way forward. With other Councils such as Derry City and Strabane and Mid and East Antrim levying no charge for small or community events I feel it's apt we review matters locally in Ards and North Down.
The roll out of this new law has been confusing to say the least, and I welcome the support from fellow Councillors to ensure we are in possession of all the facts and able to plan a sensible way forward one year after the legislation came into effect from 3 September 2017 after the previous Minister for Infrastructure Chris Hazzard decided to proceed regardless of concerns raised thereby passing the problem onto Council and creating real issues for local community and sporting groups.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Muir delighted historic Holywood building set to be saved

Mr Larry Thompson RIBA (Chairperson of
Holywood Conservation Group) and Councillor
Andrew Muir (Alliance, Holywood & Clandeboye)
with 1 Stewart’s Place, Holywood in the background
I am delighted the historic building is now set to be saved, after months of constant lobbying secured the future of a building seen by many as “a real jewel in Holywood’s built heritage”.

Over the past few years we’ve witnessed the partial collapse of the building, leading to closure of the road for a substantial period of time – as concerns raged over who would take the building on and what the final decision would be around its future.

Stewart’s Place is part of our local heritage dating back to about 1840, named after the first post-master of Holywood, Hugh Stewart. Number 1 and 3 Stewart’s Place are part of a pair and were both listed in the 1970s with Number 3 restored as a Residential Building in 1993. 

While it couldn’t continue in its current state, with the disruption that came with this actually hindering life in Holywood, it is welcome to hear planning permission has finally been granted to Lacuna Developments to enable the full restoration of the once much loved site. Many thanks  to Lacuna Developments for preserving and overcoming some of the unnecessary hurdles placed by statutory agencies in order to get the green light to proceed.

I’m delighted to have been one of the voices championing this local cause alongside Holywood Conservation Group and look forward to watching Stewart’s Place returned to its former glory when work gets underway later this year.

Also commenting on the issue, Mr Larry Thompson RIBA, Chair of the Holywood Conservation Group stated that “the committee and members of Holywood Conservation Group are delighted and pleased that this listed building has received Planning Approval for refurbishment and conversion to apartments, and that work on site has, at long last, commenced. Holywood Conservation Group campaigned hard over the past ten years to prevent the building from being demolished, including placard demonstration and the fitting of look-a-like false windows to give the building some visual appeal over the many years it lay vacant.”

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Progress on Coastal Path upgrade campaign

I am keeping up the pressure to complete much needed upgrades of the North Down Coastal Path in order to make the path safe and accessible to all. The path runs from Bangor to Kinnegar in Holywood and has been upgraded in sections over the last number of years but travel between Seahill and Cultra remains challenging in places with very narrow paths and steep drops to the rocks and shoreline.

After raising the issue at the Council’s monthly Community & Wellbeing Committee meeting I was delighted to receive a detailed update from Council officers outlining exciting plans for a Kinnegar to Donaghadee Greenway via the North Down Coastal Path. 

Example section requiring upgrade
Plans are currently being finalised with public consultation on the developed design scheduled to occur from late April with a public information event and opportunity to submit views over a 12 week period. Views will then be collated and proposed design then presented to Council for approval. An update report is also due to be received by Council in April 2018 detailing progress concerning Council’s wider Greenway strategy which hopes to connect up many parts of the Borough via traffic free routes.

Whilst any upgrade of the North Down Coastal Path must respect and protect the local environment, as has been proven in other sections, innovative ways exist to upgrade the path whilst ensuring the tranquil nature is preserved. Whether it’s improved physical and mental health, enabling more sustainable transport or increased trade for local businesses upgrade of the North Down Coastal Path has enormous positive potential as part of wider Kinnegar to Donaghadee Greenway. The Comber Greenway and others across the British Isles are great examples of what’s possible.

As a keen runner I regularly use the North Down Coastal path and was involved in securing upgrade of previous sections 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. With the route now upgraded the entire way from Seahill to Bangor many people can be found enjoying the path especially with the arrival of brighter nights. Whether it’s walkers, runners, those exercising their dogs or, cyclists (where permissible and safe to do so at a leisurely pace) success of this shared path is something to celebrate.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Alliance puts wheels in motion for Bicycle Repair Stations across the Borough

Ards and North Down Alliance Councillor Deborah Girvan and I have put the wheels in motion towards a more Bicycle friendly Borough after securing unanimous support of a Council Committee to consider roll out of Bicycle Repair Stations at key locations across the Borough.

CS Lewis Square Bicycle Repair Station

CS Lewis Square Bicycle Repair Station
A Bicycle Repair Station was recently introduced at CS Lewis Square in East Belfast (see above). Free and publically accessible the bike repair facility comprises a bicycle pump unit and a unit containing a range of eight retractable tools to provide cyclists with a free facility to make adjustments and repairs on the spot. 

Proposal from Deborah and I that officers bring back a report on possible installation of similar stations at key locations in the Ards and North Down Borough was agreed at Community and Wellbeing Committee Wednesday 14 March 2018. Decision now awaits formal ratification by full Council on Wednesday 28 March 2018.

After seeing the Bicycle Repair Station at CS Lewis Square I immediately took a few photos and contacted relevant bodies to establish the background.  Priced at approximately £2,600, the Bicycle Repair Station was introduced as part of the Connswater Greenway and CS Lewis Square works and received 60% grant funding. Managed on a day to day basis by Belfast City Council it has proven a very popular facility helping to facilitate more sustainable and healthy travel by bicycle

CS Lewis Square Bicycle Repair Station
With cycling on the increase and current routes across the Borough such as the Ards Peninsula and the Comber Greenway enjoying great levels of patronage I am delighted to receive support for this proposal. Every single step we take to encourage cycling and improve safety moves us up a gear towards a more Bicycle friendly Borough.

Alderman Deborah Girvan stated “Cycling is a very popular sport. Over the past few years I have noticed a substantial increase in the number of people, including cycling clubs, using our roads to explore the Borough. Bicycle Repair Stations would be a welcome facility to assist cyclists if they get a puncture or need to make minor repairs during their journey.

Motion passed “That this Council asks that officers bring back a report on possible installation of free and publicly accessible Bicycle Repair Stations at key locations in our Borough following introduction of similar at CS Lewis Square, Belfast comprising of a bicycle pump unit and a unit containing a range of retractable tools to provide cyclists with a free facility to make adjustments and repairs on the spot.”

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Council backs proposals to grasp potential of Kinnegar Army Base

Significant Kinnegar Logistics Base site
Courtesty of Google Maps
I have called for plans to be put in place to realise the full potential of Kinnegar Logistics Base following its planned closure in 2022.

I made the proposal at Ards and North Down Borough Council’s Regeneration and Development Committee, where my plans for creating a mixed use Masterplan for the site received unanimous backing. The decision is subject to formal ratification by full Council. The Ministry of Defence announced their plans to dispose of 54 acre Kinnegar Logistics in 2022 in late 2016 with all Military Units at the site to be re-provided for.

Previously a busy base employing up to 1,000 civilian staff at the height of the troubles the situation has clearly evolved now that we live in relative peace. The service previously given by many at the base is to be commended with the commitment given by the previous Defence Secretary that no job losses will occur also welcomed, with all re-deployed to Palace Barracks.

As we have seen at other sites across Northern Ireland. far too often assets close down, people move on and all that is left is a site turning into nothing more than an eyesore whilst public bodies dither and debate it’s future.  Kinnegar Logistics Base has been part of the Holywood landscape for years and must be utilised to create jobs, deliver homes and act keep Holywood on the map as somewhere to live and do business.

Rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen we must take action now as this site has the potential to become a valuable asset for generations to come. In order for this to happen planning must commence now, in close consultation with local residents, businesses and other key stakeholders.

A fantastic opportunity for job creation if done right, we can’t let this site become like other vacated bases, with development slow and potential development not brought to fruition. Development of plans for this site are also very apt with work now underway to construction the £1billion Belfast City Region Growth Deal.

I’m delighted other Councillors backed my proposal and recommendation Council seeks funding for future development as part of the Belfast City Region Growth Deal. This will now allow us to move forward, hear a wide range of views and hopefully develop costed options for regeneration, including transport, public realm and other supporting infrastructure.  Together we can turn around a sad story of closure to one of success benefiting local people and the economy alike.

Motion tabled by myself and passed at Regeneration and Development Committee on Thursday 8 February 2018 “This Council notes the substantial opportunities available in light of the planned closure of Kinnegar Logistics Base and agrees that serious consideration should be given to seeking funding for future development as part of the Growth Deal for Belfast City Region, due by September 2018. Furthermore, Council requests officers promptly bring back a report highlighting the process for developing a mixed use Masterplan for the site, which will involve close engagement with local residents, businesses and other key stakeholders, and will produce costed options for regeneration, including transport, public realm and other supporting infrastructure.”

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

New Post Box for Cultra signed, sealed and delivered

Cllr Muir at new Post Box at
Seafront Road, Cultra
I am delighted to have signed, sealed and delivered a Post Box for Cultra after leading a long and determined campaign to ensure local residents once again got a First Class service from Royal Mail following decommissioning of the previous Victorian Box which had its aperture closed just before Easter last year.

I am delighted to have been able to deliver this replacement Post Box despite the delays when I started to worry that the replacement Post Box was ‘lost in the post’. As a result of sustained lobbying and follow up on almost a weekly basis the replacement Post Box finally received the stamp of approval in late 2017 with installation then occurring early in the New Year at Seafront Road, Cultra opposite Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club.

Whilst frustrated at the ridiculous delays encountered and fact that the people of Cultra were left to endure no Post Box and associated Second Class service for such a long period of time I am proud to have been instrumental in ensuring this box was signed, sealed and delivered. The scenic location chosen for the replacement Post Box arguably means this has been a ‘Special Delivery’ with the old Victorian Post Box also remaining but painted black in line with protocol agreed with Heritage England. Whilst collections have already commenced from the new Post Box I have asked for details of the precise collection times to be displayed without delay.

Post Box at Seafront Road, Cultra
Although delighted to have achieved this delivery I have still not given up on installation of a replacement Post Box at Station Road, Craigavad which was unfairly removed and returned to sender in 2016. I am currently working with local residents to explore different avenues to get Royal Mail to change their mind and deliver a new Post Box so that the people of Craigavad also receive the First Class service they deserve.

Old Victorian Post Box