Sunday, 19 May 2019

Lighting up Ards Town Hall for LGBT Awareness Week positive progress towards an inclusive Borough

Ards Town Hall was illuminated in Rainbow colours on Monday 13 May 2019 to mark the start of LGBT Awareness Week.

I warmly welcome this small but important step after initially making the proposal last year.

Lighting up Ards Town Hall in Rainbow colours by Ards and North Down Borough Council as part of efforts to mark LGBT Awareness Week helps us to build a truly inclusive Borough for everyone reaching out to LGBT citizens, their family, friends and colleagues making it known they are valued and welcome members of our society. 

With the proposal passed by only one vote I would like to thank all the Councillors who voted in favour and look forward to yet further progress by the Council towards building a Borough which embraces and positively celebrates diversity. 

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Thank you to everyone who voted Alliance

I would like to thank every single person who came out to vote Alliance demanding better and can assure them that we will work relentlessly hard to deliver better with work already underway to deliver upon the trust place in the Alliance Party. This election has sent a powerful message about the desire for positive, progressive and practical politics with ten out of the ten Alliance candidates fielded in Ards and North Down all elected and many topping the poll. 

I have waited my entire life for the political change that swept across Northern Ireland last week with more and more new progressive people elected from the shadows of our old divisive politics of the past committed to building a new Northern Ireland which is modern, open, inclusive, and outward looking. 

In contrast to the impasse at the Assembly and Brexit-inspired deadlock at Westminster, Councils are the only tier of local government still functioning. While things are stagnating elsewhere, we are determined to make Local Government work for local people focused on solutions not problems and open and transparent politics which engages with communities and engenders trust.

Councillor Andrew Muir, Alliance Party Councillor for Holywood and Clandeboye Electoral Area and Alliance Party Group Leader, Ards and North Down Borough Council

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Muir welcomes news Cairn Wood now safely in public ownership

Councillor Muir at Cairn Wood
I welcome news that Cairn Wood has now transferred into public ownership with NI Water recently writing to me to confirm that it was transferred to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) on 1 April 2019.

After a concerted campaign I am delighted to learn that Cairn Wood has now been saved with potential sale to the highest bidder no longer a possibility. The thousands who signed my petition, protested and lobbied government have delivered a secure future for Cairn Wood proving that people power delivers.

Transfer of monies from the Department of Agriculture to NI Water for the land ensures that Cairn Wood will remain in public hands for the enjoyment by future generations. I am thrilled to be informed of this news after writing to NI Water earlier in the year seeking progress on the issue with the same dogged determination I first demonstrated when I learned of plans to sell of the Forest in November 2015.

The next step to be taken is signing off the Memorandum of Understanding and Licence with Ards and North Down Borough Council to develop and operate the paths and Forest generally. This work has been well progressed and if re-elected I intend to press hard to ensure Council concludes discussions and proceeds with work to ensure Cairn Wood is properly maintained in close consultation with users and stakeholders.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Alliance due to meet NI Water & NI Environment Agency to end pollution of Tillysburn Stream

North Down and East Belfast Alliance representatives have joined forces and are due to meet both Northern Ireland Water and the NI Environment Agency after the cause of pollution of the Tillysburn Stream was recently revealed. Pollution of the stream has resulted in malodours for local residents with Holywood householders regularly complaining about the awful smell.

After receiving reports of malodours from local people in Kinnegar and along the Belfast Road in Holywood late last year I immediately made contact with NI Water seeking answers as to the possible cause. This resulted in a site visit to the Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment works which are now operating correctly after the multi million pound investment I secured a number of years ago to end discharge of sewage into the Kinnegar Lagoons which had been causing a nuisance for decades.

During my site visit we did however also inspect Tillysburn Stream with malodours clearly evident. Tillysburn Stream is a stretch of water running from Tillysburn Roundabout to back of IKEA, Holywood Exchange and B&Q. As a result of this visit to Tillysburn Stream I made contact with Belfast Harbour Commissioners, who own the area in question but they were unfortunately unable to establish the root cause of the problem.  I therefore referred the issue to the NI Environment Agency who have now responded stating:

There are a number of NI Water Combined Sewer Overflows which discharge into the Tillysburn Stream. Previous investigations have found that these CSOs discharge during wet weather and may be contributing to the malodours you refer to. NIW are currently working on the East Belfast Drainage Area Plan, this plan will identify NIW assets which require investment in order to improve and protect the environment for East Belfast. The Drainage Area Plan will include the CSOs discharging into the Tillysburn Stream. Delivery of the improvements will be dependent on NIW funding.

Discharging sewage into the Tillysburn Stream is not acceptable nor can it continue with residents wrongly forced to endure awful odours and local wildlife present along the Tillysburn Lagoons required to inhabit filthy dirty water. I therefore intend to use the meeting to press both NI Water and the NI Environment Agency for dates and commitments to end the pollution. Local people and wildlife should no longer have to endure the pollution forced upon them as a result of lack of investment in our sewage infrastructure.”

East Belfast Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle commented “We have already seen the benefits of investment made in our sewage and waste water network across East Belfast but much more is needed to bring Belfast up to the standards required to ensure pollution incidents are minimised and our rivers and streams remain clean and places where wildlife can flourish. I look forward to meeting the NI Water and NIEA officials and will be doing all I can to ensure adequate and prompt investment in our infrastructure”.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Muir expresses concern following Holywood Pollution Incident

I have expressed concern following a pollution incident in Holywood last week which saw sewage discharged into a local river.

On 26 March I was contacted by a concerned resident reporting discharge of raw sewage into the Croft Burn and associated malodour. Upon reporting the issue to the NI Environment Agency Pollution Hotline it quickly became apparent that the cause of the pollution was a block Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) on Victoria Road, Holywood.

Whilst I am grateful for NI Water for unblocking the CSO on 28 March I am concerned that this issue occurred in the first place and have therefore contacted NI Water to establish cause of the blockage so we can avoid any future re occurrences.  

NIEA response: I am happy to confirm that this incident was investigated this morning and the source established as a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) on Victoria Road with the cause likely to be a blockage. Northern Ireland Water have been working on this today in order to restore the flow in the sewer and thus stop the discharge. I would expect rapid improvement in the watercourse over the next few days but we shall be keeping it under observation to ensure this is the case. I have also notified a number of residents who contacted ourselves directly yesterday evening.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Carbon Neutral Council progress welcomed

I have thanked Council officers for progressing proposals that the Local Authority become Carbon Neutral, potentially leading the way as the first Council in Northern Ireland to achieve this status.

After proposing that Ards and North Down Borough Council work to become a Carbon Neutral Council in October last year I am delighted to now receive a report from Council officers providing a useful update on work to achieve this important status.

With the world now in the midst of a Climate Emergency the need for action to avert potentially devastating consequences of global warming is of paramount importance with just 12 years remaining to act on climate change to prevent a catastrophe requiring significant deep and challenging levels of decarbonisation.

As a Council we have a duty to play our part in these efforts striving towards carbon neutrality and are, I believe, up to the challenge as already proven in relation to, for example, our recycling efforts, work done via procurement procedures to ensure
contracts with energy providers encourage the use of green energy with energy efficiency of Council buildings reviewed on a quarterly basis.

I am very grateful to Council officers for work undertaken and research planned to enable development practical ways as part of wider goal to achieve carbon neutrality and look forward to further updates as Ards and North Down Borough Council travels its’ journey towards a more environmentally friendly carbon neutral future”

Notice of Motion proposed in October 2018 “That this Council agrees that Climate Change is one of the biggest global challenges of our time, affirms that Council has an important leadership role in creating a low carbon future and accordingly requests that officers bring back a report on the possibilities of Ards and North Down Borough Council becoming a Carbon Neutral Council including possible timescales for achieving carbon neutrality.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Muir welcomes plans for Service of Thanksgiving for Emergency Services

I warmly welcome the decision by a recent Council Committee to organise an Annual Multi Denominational Service of Thanksgiving for the Emergency Services and First Responders after he first proposed such an event in June 2018. The Committee decision was unanimous and ratified by Full Council at the end of March 2019.

I am delighted to see this initiative being progressed after first proposing such an Annual Service last year based upon the example set by Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council who were involved in organising a Service in conjunction with local Churches for members of the Emergency Services and First Responders. The Service included an opportunity for those in attendance to learn about work undertaken by such organisations and involved a collection for NI Air Ambulance which is based within their Council area.

Those working in the Emergency Services and First Responders do a fantastic job across our Borough as everyday heroes, there when we need them most and very often going well beyond the call of duty to help others hence my proposal to recognise their courageous service in an inclusive Multi Denominational manner for those who choose to attend.

Representatives of both the Ards and Bangor Clergy Groups are supportive of and willing to be involved in such a service with Emergency Services and First Responder Groups expressing enthusiasm for the service and a willingness to be actively involved with the invitation to attend and participate in the Service to be circulated more widely to all emergency responder groups, including the NI Coastguard, NI Air Ambulance and other charitable and voluntary organisations, e.g. RNLI. The first service will be held on the afternoon of either Sunday, 1 September or Sunday, 8 September 2019 and held outdoors (to increase inclusivity), with the location rotating year on year between Bangor and Newtownards.

I would like to thank Council officers for their hard work in progressing this initiative and look forward to attending the inaugural event in September providing an opportunity to show our appreciation and support for the extraordinary commitment, service, courage and professionalism of our Emergency Services and First Responders.


Monday, 18 March 2019

Muir welcomes Council moves to address impact of new Road Closure legislation

I have welcomed the decision reached at the Council’s Environment Committee on 6 March 2019 to set aside funds to help local community and voluntary groups to overcome the effects of new and much criticised Road Closure legislation. The decision is subject to ratification by full Council.

Pushed through just as the Northern Ireland Assembly was collapsing, the new Special Events on Roads legislation is continuing to have a detrimental impact upon community and voluntary groups bringing ridiculous levels of bureaucracy and significant fees just as we are trying to encourage active lifestyles and community participation.

With Groomsport 10K / Half Marathon now cancelled, Ards Half Marathon not held in 2018 and Holywood May Day Festivities previously endangered as a result of this legislation I am keen to find a much more satisfactory situation whilst recognising limited Council powers in the absence of the NI Executive to repeal this bad law. I therefore tabled a Motion in June last year on the issue and am delighted to see Council officers now present a number of proposals which will help mitigate impact of the legislation.

A much improved situation is now on the horizon with the £100 cost of advertising events proposed by community/voluntary groups now to be waived and funds set aside from the Recycling Community Investment Fund to cover some of the costs incurred. I would like to thank Council officers for the work undertaken and will keep the issue under review whilst we wait for devolved government to be re-established to get rid of this unreasonable law.

Motion proposed by Councillor Muir in June 2018 and agreed by Ards and North Down Borough Council: “That this Council requests that officers bring back a report on how the new legislation and arrangements concerning Special Events on Roads – road (Miscellaneous Provision) Act (NI) 2010 has been operating one year after enactment ton 4 September 2017 including costs charged compared to other Councils and with a specific focus concerning impact upon charitable / not for profit organisations and sporting events.”

Previous statements concerning issue:

Muir reports Kinnegar malodours to NI Environment Agency

Councillor Muir at Kinnegar Lagoons
I have referred the on-going malodours in the vicinity of the Kinnegar area to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency requesting assistance in eliminating  the regular foul smells, for good.

A number of years previously NI Water made a multi-million pound investment in Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment Plant after a long running campaign led by myself to stop pollution of Kinnegar Lagoons and associated malodours arising.

I have visited the site with NI Water officials and from initial investigations cause of previous malodours has been substantially addressed. During visit to the site we did however also inspect Tillysburn Stream and malodours were evident. Tillysburn Stream is a stretch of water running from Tillsburn Roundabout to back of IKEA, Holywood Exchange and B&Q.

Photo taken on Thursday 17 January 2019 during
Councillor Andrew Muir’s NI Water site
As a result of this visit of Tillysburn Stream I made contact with Belfast Harbour Commissioners, who we understand own the area in question. In conversation with an official from Belfast Harbour I was informed that annual clean-up of the stream had occurred in October 2018 before the anticipated storms in order to prevent flooding, clearing out debris to ensure culvert which links the stream with Belfast Lough was cleared. This has apparently occurred since 2010 with shell and sediment removed as part of the works ensuring the water was free flowing.

With these works occurring from 2010 the root cause of the problem has still not been established hence I have now referred the issue to the NI Environment Agency seeking assistance in addressing this issue. Local people have suffered from the problem for far too long and I will not rest until it’s resolved


Before and after photos from NI Water of Kinnegar Lagoons

Before and after photos from NI Water of Kinnegar Lagoons



Friday, 11 January 2019

Alliance extremely disappointed Department sees no benefit in discussing Residents Parking Schemes for other areas

Alliance Councillor Karen Douglas, Alliance Alderman Alan McDowell and I are extremely disappointed after the Department for Infrastructure confirmed it saw "no benefit" in extending a Residents Parking Schemes to other areas and have refused request to make a deputation to Council.

Councillor Karen Douglas, Alderman Alan McDowell and I have both campaigned for the scheme to be extended to problem areas across the Borough – including Holywood and Bangor Town Centres, after a successful piloting of the scheme in South Belfast.

Effectiveness of these schemes is now clear following the pilot South Belfast enabling residents in local areas to more easily access their property and undertake important tasks without the worry they may never get parked close to home. I am therefore extremely disappointed that the residents of North Down are still being denied the opportunity to get some respite years after the Department initially promised roll out of Residents Parking Schemes across Northern Ireland.

Not only am I disappointed the move has been ruled out, but I'm both shocked and saddened that the Department is not even prepared to discuss the issue in any further detail despite the democratically expressed will of Ards and North Down Borough Council in requesting that Department for Infrastructure make a deputation to Council about the issue.

Ards and North Down Borough Council have therefore written to the Department for Infrastructure urging them to re-think their decision to refuse the invitation attend one of our Committee meetings.

Councillor Karen Douglas stated: "It has taken a long time to receive the answer to our campaign, with Alliance first proposing these schemes be introduced locally in May 2018. What the Department seems to forget is how people's everyday lives are impacted, which, if implemented, would have been an important step in making lives easier, allowing residents to park near their homes, without having to search for a space and having to carry groceries and other items a further distance.

"If the Department had taken the time to investigate this further, it would have recognised the need and want is there.  In 2012 Alliance conducted a survey on the issue, with 97 percent of respondents wanting to see a scheme in place.  Within that 86 percent want it in operation all week, with 58 per cent wanting to see it enforced 24 hours a day and the remaining opinion split between 8am-6pm and 8am-10pm.  You can sure these numbers will only have gone up with more and more vehicles on the road.

"Rest assured Alliance will continue to push for this scheme to become a reality at the earliest opportunity."

In May 2018 Ards and North Down Borough Council unanimously agreed motion proposed by me “that this Council agrees to write to the Department for Infrastructure requesting they make a deputation to Council concerning Residents’ Parking Schemes, lessons learnt to date and future plans for roll out.”

In January 2019 Ards and North Down Borough Council unanimously agreed on the proposal of Councillor Muir, seconded by Alderman Carson, that "the Council writes back to the Department expressing its disappointment and asks it to reconsider the Council’s invitation"