Muir welcomes Planning Review

Alliance Party MLA and Party Infrastructure Spokesperson Andrew Muir has welcomed the forthcoming review of Planning Legislation to be undertaken over the months ahead after the Assembly Infrastructure Committee discussed the terms of the review. He’s called for the review to be started without delay and result in swift changes to “enable more speedy decision making on Planning Applications”.

The review arises from a legal requirement inserted into the 2011 Act at Consideration Stage and should have taken place back in April 2018 but will now finally take place following the absence of an Executive over past three years. It’s hoped the review will be concluded by March 2021.

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “The 2011 Planning Act was the most significant piece of planning legislation enacted in decades resulting in major changes in how planning applications are determined transferring many powers from Central to Local Government in 2015. A number of years later it’s right that we review whether the objectives set in 2011 have been achieved and what opportunity there is to deliver a more fit for purpose system by retaining, amending or repealing any elements.

Fact that the average period of time taken to determine Major Applications during 2019/20 was 52.8 weeks compared to a target of 30 makes it clear why the review should look at ways to ensure we have a quicker planning system as was the objective back in 2011 coupled with news I recently obtained that statutory consultees only replied to 70% of Planning Application consultation requests within the statutory time limits during 2019/20

I am glad to have secured commitment from the Department for Infrastructure’s Director of Planning that enactment of both primary and subordinate legislation will be considered if the review finds a case for change. A quick desktop review without an appetite for change would be extremely disappointing and failure to grasp opportunity for a range of relatively simple but vital changes which enable more speedy decision making on Planning Applications as we struggle to rebuild our economy whilst protecting our environment.”

Some changes proposed by Andrew Muir MLA include “Requirement for applicants to demonstrate how they have altered their proposals in light of issues raised during pre-application process thereby ending right to developers to use the process as a mere tick box exercise which fails to properly consider views and concerns of local people. Putting Pre-Development Examination process pioneered by NI Water on a statutory footing. Creating in legislation ability for Planning Authorities to reject poor quality applications with applications only validated once confirmed to be of a sufficient standard. In light of the delays in getting planning decisions introduction of Processing Agreements plus Statutory Determination Deadlines for Major Applications and Regionally Significant Applications with financial penalties if consultation responses not returned within pre-defined timeframe.”

Concluding, Andrew Muir MLA stated “Desire for more significant changes such as introduction of Third Party Right of Appeal remain alongside need to overhaul painstakingly slow process associated with Local Development Plans, some of which I fear may never see the light of day after what I fear will be decades of process, delays and inevitable legal challenge.”

Muir calls for Holywood Park and Ride expansion

North Down Alliance MLA and Assembly Infrastructure Member Andrew Muir has called upon the Infrastructure Minister to consider expansion of Holywood Rail Station Park and Ride. 

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “Whilst rail and bus passengers numbers are currently low I’m keen to ensure we have better and more sustainable travel solutions once the pandemic eventually passes. 

With the Car Park at Holywood Rail Station is only able to accommodate a small amount of cars I contacted the Infrastructure Minister to see if she was willing to explore new Park and Ride site at Kinnegar Army Barracks which is due to be sold by 2022. 

I am disappointed no current desire to explore opportunities for use of the site utilising access road from the Harbour Estate but will keep seeking updates on Tillysburn Junction Park and Ride which the Minister cites as a possible alternative. It is however important previous plans for Tillysburn site are revised and new a design brought forward which better enables safe and easy access and exit at already busy and congested junction.” 

Infrastructure Minister’s response to Andrew Muir MLA’s Question attached plus photo of Holywood Rail Station taken by Andrew Muir which may be used without attribution

Q: To ask the Minister for Infrastructure whether consideration has been given to exploring the use of Kinnegar Logistics Base as a Park and Ride site once it becomes available for use in 2022.

A: I am committed to developing new integrated plans which deliver support for public transport, encourage more walking and cycling, better manage car commuting and promote sustainable development all in an effort to improve the environment and people’s lives. I recognise the role of Park and Ride schemes in helping to reduce City Centre congestion, and am keen to see such a facility constructed on the eastern side of Belfast. Initial studies have considered a number of sites around the Tillysburn Junction. Work to develop a Park and Ride site in this area is ongoing.

Muir welcomes Cultra Avenue resurfacing but urges authorities to do more to tackle North Down roads resurfacing backlog

North Down Alliance MLA and Party Infrastructure Spokesperson Andrew Muir has welcomed plans to resurface Cultra Avenue in Holywood but called upon the Infrastructure Minister for take action to ensure more roads repairs across North Down.

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “For years I have been contacted by local residents fed up with the state of Cultra Avenue with a lunar like road surface as opposed to smooth surface with massive pot holes and tarmac falling apart. I am therefore delighted to learn about resurfacing plans after requesting action to get the road resurfaced. 

I am however disappointed this is currently just one of three roads in North Down due to get resurfaced with so many roads and pavements across the constituency in urgent need of repair. The on-going lack of investment by the Department for Infrastructure isn’t acceptable and must be addressed by the Minister to ensure residents have a fit for purpose and safe way to travel. I have raised a formal Question at the Assembly on the issue urging the Minister to bid for additional funds will continue to push for progress because, put simple, people of North Down deserve better”.

Muir calls for assistance to local businesses Excluded from support

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir spoke in the Assembly on Tuesday 15 September 2020 in support of calls to provide much needed assistance to local businesses excluded from grant assistance. 

Quoting some examples of businesses in need, Andrew Muir MLA stated “From the very start of this crisis I have been in regular contact with businesses in my constituency that have been left in utter despair” 

Andrew Muir MLA also remarked “I have so many examples of businesses in North Down and beyond who were not eligible for business support grants because of so many reasons, whether it be their business rates were over the NAV thresholds (some very marginally by just a pound), company directors with no PAYE employees who could not apply for the Hardship Fund,  Bed and Breakfast owners or those who didn’t operate out of fixed property who couldn’t apply for grants based on rateable value, and newly-self employed entrepreneurs who did not meet the criteria for UK Self Employed Support Scheme.” 

Concluding his remarks in the Assembly Andrew Muir MLA stated “It is long beyond time that the Minister for the Economy should have brought forward a hardship scheme for businesses that have been excluded from existing support packages. I have written to her on numerous occasions about the issues that have arisen in the debate. Unfortunately, I eventually received only generic responses, offering little more than tea and sympathy. Minister, the time for tea and sympathy is up. The time for action is now.

Alliance calls for North Down not to be left out in School 20mph Speed Restrictions Schemes

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir and Councillor Connie Egan has called for the Department for Infrastructure to prioritise introduction of 20 mph Speed Limit Schemes in North Down after not a single school was included in most recent Ministerial announcement. 

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA and Party Infrastructure Spokesperson stated “Whilst I warmly welcome the Minister’s announcement to roll out schemes across Northern Ireland I am disappointed no schools in North Down are listed to be included. 

The safety of children and young people must be of paramount importance but I am very worried to see no action to help limit the speed of traffic outside North Down schools currently without speed restrictions. I have formally raised the matter with the Infrastructure Minister and will be lobbying for action to ensure this omission is rectified” 

Councillor Connie Egan added: “It is a matter of regret schools in North Down missed out on this opportunity in joining others in having the safety of their pupils increased by this move. 

Parents of young people in many local schools have contacted Alliance asking us to push for the Minister to think again and it is something we will pursue. In the meantime, I would appeal to all drivers to take care and slow down while outside schools”

Alliance representatives call for action to tackle parking problems

Local Alliance Party representatives have called for the Department for Infrastructure to take action to tackle parking problems being endured by local residents in Helen’s Bay, Seapark and Cultra.

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir and Councillors McRandal and Greer made the call after being inundated with complaints from local householders desperate to see parking restrictions enforced and extended to stop driveways being blocked and roads difficult to travel.

Local Police have temporarily deployed cones in areas and confirmed that whilst in general parking enforcement is not a Police responsibility (other than in cases involving offences such as obstruction and parking within 15 metres of a junction) tickets have been issued. On Monday 15 June 2020 that a total of 53 fixed penalty notices were issued for parking offences from 1 May 2020 to 12 June 2020 at Helen's Bay - Church Road, Grey Point and Fort Road. 

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir stated “Easing of lockdown restrictions and recent good weather has seen many people flock to popular destinations such as Helen’s Bay, Seapark and Cultra. The resulting impact upon local residents is however a matter of real concern with driveways blocked and roads made difficult to travel. 

It’s essential the Department for Infrastructure take action introducing additional parking restrictions where required in areas. Red coat parking attendants also need deployed to enforce contraventions not just on a 9-5 Monday to Friday basis. Staff need taken off furlough and deployed without delay.” 

Holywood and Clandeboye Alliance Councillor Martin McRandal commented “The right to easily access your home without difficulty is a basic understandable request far too often denied in recent times to people in Helen’s Bay, Seapark and Cultra. Placing Double Yellow Lines along Seapark Road would help enormously and should be actioned by the Department for Infrastructure without delay alongside better enforcement by authorities. The placement of a few cones isn’t enough.” 

Gillian Greer, Alliance Councillor for Holywood and Clandeboye Electoral Area also remarked “Seeing cars parked across driveways, on verges, double yellow lines, pavements and right up Church Road to Helen’s Bay Square is a matter of concern which must be addressed whether by Parking Attendants or Police, where relevant. I would also urge people not to come in the volumes experienced thus far to visit beaches and beauty spots as the numbers is overwhelming local neighbourhoods”

Sea Swimming Water Quality alerts must improve - Muir

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has asked the Environment Minister about ways the public are alerted to water pollution events after a recent pollution incident affecting the river running through Crawfordsburn Country Park on Saturday evening 12 September 2020.

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “Whilst I am glad to learn that trout fish are thankfully still alive in the river with no indication bathing water is now unsafe to swim in quicker and better ways need to be found to alert the public when pollution occurs.

Water quality sampling should also be extended beyond the limited locations to include places like Brompton and narrow timeframes with the bathing season officially ending on 15 September but continuing all year round for some hardy souls.”

Alliance welcome Rathgael Road Crossing progress

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir and Councillor Gillian Greer have welcomed commitment from Transport NI to explore creation of a safe pedestrian crossing on the Rathgael Road in Bangor after they made representations for action in response to many concerns expressed by local residents urging action before a tragic accident occurs.

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “With the Rathgael Road now upgraded in parts to a four lane carriageway and acting as de facto outer ring road local people are increasingly concerned at risks associated with crossing the road desperate for a safe crossing to be installed before someone is killed or seriously injured.

After lobbying Transport NI for action I am glad to be informed they intend to explore feasibility of creating safe pedestrian crossings and will continue to push for progress until much needed infrastructure put in place”

Speaking about the issue, local Councillor Gillian Greer said that concern about traffic speed and management on the Rathgael Road has been a long running issue, with the widening of the road exacerbating the problems.  Cllr Greer said, “I have written to Transport NI many times, highlighting safety concerns and I’m glad to hear that they are now taking this issue seriously and will be assessing the feasibility of creating a safe pedestrian crossing”

Alliance calls for Council to fix Coastal Path collapse

Local Alliance Party Representatives have called for swift action to be taken by the Council to repair crumbling section of the coastal path. Alliance MLA Andrew Muir and Councillors Martin McRandal and Gillian Greer have highlighted the urgent need for repair to this section of the Coastal Path near Station Road and Frenchwood Park.

This section of the path is Council owned. Council officers confirmed that they currently have a structural engineer assessing it and are awaiting his recommendations.

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “Big questions have to be asked why this section of the North Down Coastal Path has collapsed only a few years after upgrade. With many more people out enjoying the outdoors during the Summer months it’s vital Council gets the path safely repaired without delay enabling walkers, runners and cyclists safely travel along the coast”

Councillor Martin McRandal remarked “Concerns about the safety of the path at this location were raised with us by users and I was relieved to see that it was sectioned off. For the safety and convenience of all coastal path users it is important that restoration works be undertaken as soon as possible”

Concluding, Councillor Gillian Greer commented, “This is the second time in less than a year that a section of the Coastal Path has crumbled. Survey work has recently been completed, but it is essential that works begin as soon as possible to restore the Coastal Path, as it plays a key role for both leisure and tourism within the Borough”.

Muir calls for A2 cycle path extension

North Down Alliance MLA and Party Infrastructure Spokesperson Andrew Muir has pledged to keep up the pressure to create safer cycling routes after the Infrastructure Minister confirmed to him significant challenges exist to extending the A2 Cycle Path from Ballyrobert and Holywood.

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “With cycling and active travel on the increase in the context of COVID-19 it’s especially important we have safe cycling routes to enable people to travel by bicycle. Forcing people to cycle along the busy A2 Bangor to Belfast is therefore a matter of real concern requiring investment to safely segregate cyclists from vehicular travel moving at 50mph.

I’ve raised this issue with the Minister and need to extend the segregated cycle lane beside the A2 Bangor to Belfast Road from Ballyrobert to Holywood but disappointed to learn that a feasibility study is unlikely to be commissioned due to unspecified significant challenges.

Whilst I will seek to get clarification on the challenges alluded to this reply only serves to confirm the need for Ards and North Down Borough Council to proceed with wider Greenway plans. Stretches of the North Down Coastal Path are currently unsuitable for cycling but with sensitive development of the route safer travel can be enabled by all users including cyclists. I will continue to push for sufficient funding from the Department for Infrastructure to enable these plans to go ahead”

Muir keeps up the fight to plug the Kinnegar pong

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir is keeping up the pressure to plug the pong pervading areas of Holywood from Kinnegar to Strathearn, Belfast Road and beyond. 

Commenting on ongoing efforts to address the stink, Andrew Muir MLA stated “Awful sewage malodours reappeared a number of months ago with real vengeance but as of yet it’s been 

impossible to identify the source with local residents forced to endure pungent smells day and night.

Following my efforts to secure investment of £4.5million to upgrade the Kinnegar Sewage Treatment Plant and end pumping of raw sewage into the nearby Lagoons I am appalled that local people have to experience the powerful pongs once again.

After failing to identify the source following significant and sustained engagement with Northern Ireland Water I made contact with Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency who undertook investigations without any success but reported:

I understand that my staff have previously explained that the tidal mudflats and lagoons are subject to a limited exchange of water. During the summer months this limitation coupled with the presence of nutrients has the potential to cause eutrophication, leading to the growth of plants and algae. The natural decay of this vegetation will deoxygenate the water which can cause the release of gas that is similar to a smell of sewage and this could potentially be the source of the odour.

Whilst I appreciate NIEA’s work and findings these add little comfort to local residents enduring the maldours. I have therefore now made contact Ards and North Down Borough Council’s Environmental Health Department who are undertaking their own investigations. I hope these yield both findings and solutions because local people deserve much better than the current situation”.