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Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Andrew Muir MLA

Alliance Party Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for North Down

Alliance Party Chief Whip

Alliance Party Finance and Infrastructure Spokesperson

Member of  Assembly Infrastructure and Public Accounts Committees

Former Mayor of North Down, Councillor and Alliance Party Group Leader on Ards and North Down Borough Council 

CONTACT DETAILS

Casework & Constituency queries 

North Down Constituency Office 
33 Church Road, Holywood, BT18 9BU

Constituency Office open 9am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday, except Public Holidays. 

Due to COVID-19 callers by appointment, telephone or email to arrange, virtual appointments also available

Telephone 028 9544 2944  Email office@andrewmuir.net 

Room 45, Northern Ireland Assembly, Parliament Buildings, Ballymiscaw, Stormont, Belfast, BT4 3XX 

Muir launches public petition for rapidly improved Electric Vehicle charging

Alliance Party Infrastructure spokesperson Andrew Muir MLA has launched a public petition calling for the Minister for Infrastructure to rapidly improve the Electric Vehicle (EV) charging networking in Northern Ireland. 


The online petition, launched on Tuesday morning, notes that while Northern Ireland’s EV charging network was world-leading when it was established back in 2010, a decade of decay and under-investment have seen it fall to being the worst network of any region in the UK and Ireland.  The petition calls on the Minister for Infrastructure to set out a comprehensive and detailed strategy for the rapid improvement of the public EV charging network, and will be presented to the Minister when the Northern Ireland Assembly returns from recess in September. 

Mr Muir said “Northern Ireland’s EV charging network is a shambles.  At a time when we need to be encouraging people to switch to EVs to tackle the climate emergency, the awful state of our current charging network means that people who previously had bought an EV are considering switching back to petrol or diesel cars.” 

“I speak to constituents in North Down all the time who would like to switch to an EV, but worry that they won’t be able to charge their vehicles when they need to.  For those who regularly take long journeys for work or to see family, the lack of a reliable charging network across Northern Ireland is the major issue.  For those without a driveway, the lack of on-street or at work charge points makes EV ownership almost impossible. In addition to the charging network, the Alliance Party’s Green New Deal has called for interest free loans which could be used on top of existing grants to encourage people to go electric.” 

“The Department for Infrastructure cannot wash its hands of this issue, and there has been a real lack of progress since the Assembly was restored in January 2020.  The Minister urgently needs to bring forward and comprehensive and detailed strategy that will bring the public and the private sector to work together to build a fit-for-purpose, on-street EV charging network.  This petition will send a strong statement to the Minister, and I urge people to sign it.”

Link to public petition on Electric Vehicles: chng.it/Fv9NLWMZ

Friday, 6 August 2021

Muir welcomes progress on Bangor South Urban Greenway

Alliance North Down MLA Andrew Muir has welcomed a commitment from the Minister for Infrastructure to consider options for a new urban greenway in Bangor. 

Mr Muir wrote to the Minister for Infrastructure asking her department to formally consider three potential routes for a Greenway that would connect Bangor Town Centre and both the new Greenway due to run from Newtownards plus the new site for Bangor Integrated Primary School on the Balloo Road.  The Minister confirmed that her department were working with Ards and North Down Council to consider a number of schemes in the area, and that once that work had been completed she would provide firm commitments on specific proposals. 

Mr Muir said “I have been lobbying to ensure a proper cycling route is established from Balloo Road area to Bangor Town Centre, particularly important to ensure staff, pupils and parents of Bangor Integrated Primary School have a safe and accessible route to walk or cycle from Bangor Town Centre to their new site on the Balloo Road.  As part of that work, I’ve been engaging with local parents, teachers, and councillors to identify three potential routes that the proposed greenway could take”. 

“It is welcome to hear that the Department for Infrastructure and officials at Ards and North Down Council are actively working together on this.  I will continue to press the Minister to bring forward firm commitments as soon as possible, so that work can be completed prior to the opening of the new school site in 2024.”.

“The new urban greenway would also compliment the council’s plans to create a greenway between Newtownards and Conlig. The Greenway is due to terminate in the Green Road area of Conlig and would be real success if a direct dedicated route was provided into the town centre, opening up access to more Bangor residents and encouraging visitors to come visit our wonderful town”

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Muir speaks out against Conversion Therapy

Alliance MLA for North Down Andrew Muir has spoken out in favour of a ban on Conversion Therapy in a Northern Ireland Assembly debate on Tuesday 20 April 2021. 

Mr Muir served as the first openly gay Mayor in Northern Ireland in 2013/14, and is one of only two openly gay MLAs at Stormont.  In the debate on Tuesday, Mr Muir spoke passionately about the deeply damaging impact that conversion therapy has had with some of his own LGBT friends taking their lives due to the deep rooted and endemic homophobia in society. 

Speaking after the debate, Mr Muir said “So called “Conversion Therapy” is an extremely harmful practice that can cause lasting psychological damage to those who go through it.  Today, the Assembly sent out a clear message: being LGBT is not something that can be “cured”.  There is nothing wrong with being LGBT, and we should celebrate people for who we are rather than trying to change them”. 

“Following today’s debate, the Minister for Communities needs to act and bring forward legislation that effectively outlaws conversion therapy in Northern Ireland.  It has been over a year since the Assembly was restored.  With a year or less until the next Assembly election, the Minister urgently needs to bring forward this overdue legislation”.

Note to editors – Hansard of debate below, photo of Andrew Muir MLA speaking in debate attached.

Mr Muir: To start, I thank Doug and John for tabling today's motion. I know them as allies of the LGBT community, alongside others in the Chamber such as Carál Ní Chuilín, whom I have known for many years and who supported me when I was much younger and less grey-haired as an LGBT activist. I really appreciate them tabling today's motion, and I appreciate the work that so many have done, including my colleague Paula Bradshaw. I also thank, in particular, those who have been involved in a very successful, professional and well-organised campaign. I am impressed by the work that has been done. I speak as an Alliance Party MLA on behalf of the party. I am conscious of the need for a respectful debate, because people are watching, and the way that the debate plays out has impacts.

On Saturday, I was sorting out the books in my study, having got new shelves from a well-known furniture retailer. I found one of my books — 'Boy Erased' — which was given to me as a gift by one of my best friends, who was able to come to terms with his sexuality and with his friends and family in relation to that. I strongly recommend the book in relation to today's debate. Alongside the book, I found a postcard that was given to me in the late 1990s when I was at university in Derry. Things have moved on somewhat from then. At the top, it says, "Lesbians and gay men are". Well, we have moved on to be more inclusive than that, as the LGBT community. The postcard says that they are our daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws, carers, cared-for, friends, work colleagues, customers and service users. That is whom we are talking about today. The issue that we are debating has a significant impact on so many people: not just my LGBT brothers and sisters but their wider families, friends and work colleagues.

I am very fortunate to have had a very inclusive upbringing, a very supportive family and a mother who is probably more liberal than I am, but I am conscious of those who have not and of the impact of this debate on them, particularly the DUP amendment tabled on Friday. That amendment has caused hurt and offence, and people have contacted me saying that they have been re-traumatised by it, particularly the desire to remove the wording about a "fix or cure". I really regret that that has happened. 

Ms Armstrong: I thank the Member for giving way. Does the Member agree that it has been heartbreaking to hear, over the last week or so, from people who have been so traumatised by the amendment? It has traumatised a vast part of the community, which did not expect this to happen. 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an extra minute. 

Mr Muir: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I agree with Ms Armstrong. All the amendment does is harm. The DUP needs to recognise that it is on the wrong side of history on this. The debate that we have had in recent days about the amendment has shown that society has moved on quite a lot. The idea that a ban on conversion therapy can be an attack on religious freedom is building a straw man. Any legislation that is passed by this place would have to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, especially article 9. I am used to these straw men being built, especially in relation to equal marriage. We were told that the sky would fall in if we legislated for equal marriage. The reality is that people are a bit more equal and are happier in love. The sky has not fallen in. 

For me, when we are debating conversion therapy, it touches the core of what is deep-rooted homophobia in our society. There is an idea that sexuality is a choice and a lifestyle. I chose to wear a bow tie today. That is a lifestyle choice; my sexuality is not. It also goes to the core of deep-rooted transphobia in our society. The reality is that it is perfectly good and normal for one man to love another man, for one woman to love another woman or for someone to fulfil their gender identity. The failure to recognise and accept that shows why we need an effective ban. We need that ban. This must not be symbolic legislation. That would be an insult and would allow the harm to continue. 

A definition of conversion therapy is essential to allow that effective ban, and the Ban Conversion Therapy coalition of LGBT+ organisations has provided a recommended legal definition, which is about actions to encourage someone to erase, repress or change their sexuality or gender identity. Asking someone to repress, for example, their sexual orientation is deeply harmful. I know people to whom it has happened. I know people who suffered from the homophobia and transphobia in our society to such an extent that they took their life. We have a responsibility in this place to ensure that an effective ban is brought forward. Yes, it must be done through co-production and co-design with the LGBT community, but this Assembly mandate must end with an effective ban.

Muir speaks in support of Climate Change Bill

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has spoken in the Assembly in support of the Climate Change Bill presented by all parties other than the DUP. 

 Photo of Andrew Muir MLA during debate on 10 May 2021

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “This bill is long overdue. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have its own Xlimate Change Act. This has consequences.  In the decade from 2008, when Westminster passed the Climate Chance Act, emissions in the rest of the UK have fallen by more than 20%.  In Northern Ireland they have fallen by less than 10%. 

I am therefore glad to see the Bill presented and able now to pass to further stages for scrutinity, refinement and finalisation. Whilst I welcome the fact it was passed to progress to the next stage by a margin of 58 to 29 it’s disappointing the Ulster Unionist Party are now split and no longer fully backing the bill with two MLAs voting to stop the Bill.” 

Speaking on issues related to the Bill, Andrew Muir MLA stated the following in the Assembly Chamber “In the past decade, we have improved our public transport network immeasurably and delivered better-quality services and customer experiences, but there is still not enough progress in generating a modal shift from cars to Active Travel and Public Transport. Last year, the Minister for Infrastructure, with the best of intentions, no doubt, pledged to seize the opportunity for a green recovery from COVID-19, yet, more than a year later, we find ourselves deeply frustrated at the pace of change. 

Active Travel made up 2.5% of the Department for Infrastructure's Capital Budget for last year. For every one person who works in DFI's Transport policy division, which includes Active Travel, more than 40 work in DFI Roads. The actions required include the rapid roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the current set-up is a shambles, and the Department for Infrastructure's budget needs to be rebalanced to fund Active Travel properly and to review Concessionary Fares in order to get more young people using our rapidly decarbonised public transport network. Last month, the Alliance Party published its Green New Deal. It sets out many other measures that we need to take to meet the requirements in the Bill.”

Minister must act to ensure Utility Companies fix Pavements & Roads following works

Alliance North Down MLA Andrew Muir has raised the issue of Utility Companies failing to reinstate roads and footpaths to an adequate standard during a meeting of the Infrastructure Committee at Stormont last week (Wednesday 26 may 2021) with current situation described as a ‘dog’s dinner’.

Works on Chippendale Vale, Bangor

Commenting on the issue Mr Muir said “I continue to receive a huge amount of complaints from residents all over North Down reporting that roads and footpaths outside their homes have been left as a botched patchwork of tarmac following works by utilities companies. I appreciate that this work is vital in providing basic services to many homes but the standard of re-instatements is often woeful. 

Correspondence I recently received from the Department outlined that Utility companies have a legal right to place and maintain their services in the footway and carriageway but have to adhere to a certain standard of re-instatement when doing so. When footpaths already have a number of cracked and broken flags the use of bitumen is permitted but this should only be allowed if the area is imminently due for resurfacing works by the Department.

 

In some cases works are done to newly resurfaced roads or footpaths which seems completely madness.  Better communication and co-ordination between the Utilities companies and the Department for Infrastructure is essential alongside much higher standard of work. It’s clear there needs to be a tightening of the procedures and standards for the work completed as well as a higher level of follow up inspections and enforcement around this from the Department. The current situation is best described as dog’s dinner! The Committee unanimously agreed to write to the Infrastructure Minister around this and I will be following up on her response once received.”

Double Yellow lines needed for Crawfordsburn Main Street following Resurfacing Works

A request for yellow line re-instatement has been made to the Department for Infrastructure following recent remedial works to the road surface and footpaths at the entrance to the Crawfordsburn Brow Development on Crawfordsburn Main Street. 

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said “After chasing the Developer for over a year to request works be completed to the road and footways at the entrance to Crawfordsburn Brow Development I was glad to see new surfaces had been put down at the beginning of April this year. Full re-surfacing of Main Street is however now required to properly seam the development into Main Street.   

We will have to wait and see if these latest works stand the test of time but in the interim I have requested the re-instatement of double yellow lines along this stretch of the road at the top of the Main Street. It is a busy through road and had previously had double yellow lines on both sides of the road. 

Now there are pavements and curbs at the entrance to the Development cars have been parking along this stretch and causing obstructions. It’s vital the lines are re-instated to prevent problem parking here or even an accident from occurring with vehicles coming round the bend at speed. I will be following up my request with the Department to ensure action is taken promptly.”

Alliance urges swift repairs to Wandsworth Road Pavements

Local Alliance representatives have urged that works be swiftly carried out to repair pavements on Wandsworth Road area of Bangor following complaints from residents over the shoddy state of reinstatement.

Commenting on the issue North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said “As you can see from the pictures the pavements have been left in a complete mess. It’s entirely reasonable to expect contractors to return areas to good standard following works and this the lack of proper re-instatement seems to be happening time and time again. 

Whilst my office has received confirmation that the footway reinstatement is a temporary measure and that the local roads section office will be carrying out a full width footway replacement scheme very soon this needs to occur without delay and include all areas including Roseville Park and Avenue.”

Bangor West Councillor Scott Wilson added “We were contacted by several local residents concerned over the state of the pavements and I welcome confirmation from local Roads Division that these are due for completion hopefully in the next few months but urge that all affected areas are covered not just Wandsworth. We will check back to ensure this has been carried out in the envisaged time frame.”

Local Alliance Councillor Connie Egan said “Following a deluge of complaints around the pavements in this area it’s essential the Department for Infrastructure take urgent action to restore the area to a much better state than the present battlefield pedestrians are forced to tackle."

Urgent clarity needed from Council over McCutcheon’s Lane Right of Way

Local Alliance Representatives and residents have called for Ards and North Down Borough Council to clarify whether McCutcheon's Lane, which runs between Ballymiscaw Road and Whinney Hill in Craigantlet, has been asserted as a Right of Way.

Commenting on the issue North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said "We were contacted around this issue last year by residents concerned following the erection of gates blocking the path between Ballymiscaw Road and Whinney Hill. This lane is known locally as McCutcheon's Lane or "Pig Lane" and has been enjoyed by local walkers and Horse riders for decades.

Public Rights of Way are public highways that are legally protected in the same way as roads which means any member of the public can use them as a right - not a privilege granted by the landowner. These exist as a permanent legal entity and remain in existence unless and until the path is extinguished or diverted by due legal process.

We have been seeking confirmation from the Council that the Lane had been asserted officially as a Right of Way in order that access could be reinstated. Previous correspondence from the Council in 2010 seemingly confirmed that the path in question had in fact been asserted but now it appears they don't have or cannot find the corresponding records meaning an investigation file may have to be opened and the whole process started again.

It is worrying that records are not being kept and raises questions over how many of our Rights of Way may be under threat. It is the Council's responsibility to assert, protect and keep open any public Rights of Way and ensure maps and records are sufficiently preserved. We would welcome confirmation from the Council as to what the current status of the investigation is."

Karen Stewart Gay is a local resident and Rights of Way Officer for The Ulster Rural Riders Association and commented "McCutcheon's Lane has been used by Riders and walkers for at least fifty years or more. I first rode along it when I was twelve. It was one of the first rights of way to be asserted by the Ulster Rural Riders. This organisation was formed in 1988 to protect rights of way and to retain safe places for Riders and walkers. As there are not any bridle ways in N. Ireland it is vital that our ancient rights of way are not lost. It is within the Council's remit to ensure access to these is not inhibited."

Helen McFarland, a solicitor living in the area added "As a local walker and horse rider, I have been using this lane for many years and always understood it was a right of way between Creighton's Green Road and Ballymiscaw Road. It's most disappointing to have access denied recently by locked gates across the path."

Holywood and Clandeboye Alliance Councillor Gillian Greer said "Given North Down is so rich in natural beauty there is a popular culture of walking and horse riding meaning these Rights of Way are particularly important to local life here. Whilst I recognise that record keeping has changed over the years and Covid-19 restrictions have had an impact on staff attending the workplace, I would welcome confirmation from the Council that they have clear procedures and record keeping systems established to ensure our Rights of Way are being protected."

Muir urges public to report pungent pongs at Kinnegar

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has urged local people to report regularly occurring malodours in the Kinnegar area to the Council after they offered to issue and review log sheets in efforts to establish the root cause. 

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “I have been campaigning for many years to eliminate the awful malodours emanating from the Kinnegar Lagoons and thought we had solved the problem when I secured £4.5million investment in the Waste Water Treatment Works. These works helped enormously by ending the scandalous practice whereby raw sewage was pumped into the Kinnegar Lagoons. The pong has however sadly returned with malodours again wafting through the air”. 

Continuing Andrew Muir MLA remarked “Engagement with both NI Water and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has not unfortunately located the source of the stench despite my repeated engagement with these bodies and extensive research by both. Whilst these efforts may have drawn a blank I am still determined to secure a resolution to the issue and made contact with Ards and North Down Borough Council”. 

Concluding, Andrew Muir MLA stated “I am thankful to the Council for offering to issue and review log sheets to establish how often and when the odours occur in order to hopefully eliminate the nuisance and would urge local residents to get in contact with Environmental Health so we can end the pungent pongs which continue to pervade the area”

Time to get a move on with special events on roads review, says Muir

Alliance Infrastructure spokesperson and North Down MLA Andrew Muir has criticised the Department for Infrastructure’s failure to respond to the review of special events on roads legislation prior to COVID-19 restrictions being eased. 

The Assembly passed legislation in 2017 giving local authorities the power to approve the closure of roads for holding special events such as sport races. However, after criticism of the legislation, the Department agreed to a review which closed in September, having received over 800 responses. In spite of multiple questions from Mr Muir, the Department’s official response is yet to be released. 

“It’s not good enough just as restrictions are finally easing, we still have bad legislation in place that will make such events harder to organise,” he said. 

“The Department has had more than six months to formulate a response to the consultation. I urge the Minister to bring forward that response at the earliest opportunity. This legislation resulted in cancellation of numerous community running races and other fundraising events locally prior to the pandemic and needs changed.” 

“Hopefully in the not too distant future, we will be in a position in Northern Ireland to host outdoor sporting events that are popular with local communities and promote an active lifestyle. After more than a year of living under restrictions, there is a lot of interest in such events. We need to have legislation in place making these events easier, not harder, to facilitate"

Alliance meets Infrastructure Minister on Sydenham Greenway and Park and Ride plans

A group of Alliance Councillors and MLAs met with the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon MLA on Wednesday 24 March 2021 to discuss the recently announced plans regarding the proposed Tillysburn Park and Ride and the Sydenham Greenway. 

The meeting was attended by a selection of representatives from East Belfast and North Down, including East Belfast MLA Chris Lyttle, North Down MLA Andrew Muir, Holywood and Clandeboye Councillors Gillian Greer and Martin McRandal plus East Belfast Councillors Ross McMullan and Sian Mulholland.  

The representatives raised concerns regarding the impact on traffic and road safety at the proposed Tillysburn site especially in terms of entrance and exit but welcomed news on planned entrance from the A2 Sydenham Bypass City bound lane.  

With regards to the Sydenham Greenway, representatives called for the new cycling infrastructure to be fully segregated, and off-road to the greatest extent possible.  The Minister agreed that there should be further consultation with stakeholders prior to the proposed schemes being developed. 

Commenting on the engagement, Chris Lyttle MLA stated “With previous plans for a Park and Ride site at Tillysburn attracting lots of feedback and concern about the impact upon an already very busy and hazardous junction it’s important finalised arrangements address these worries ensure safe and efficient entrance and exit. The Greenway linking Victoria Park to Holywood must also be built to a standard that will attract users with segregation and safety a top priority” 

Speaking after the meeting, Andrew Muir MLA said “I’m very grateful to the Minister for attending to engage with local representatives.  Investment in further Park and Rides and Greenways that will serve the people of North Down are very welcome as we look to further facilitate people to choose Active Travel and Public Transport. 

We now need to make sure that the proposed developments are attractive for people to use, and don’t have any negative impacts on the local area. I look forward to seeing the various options proposed for the Greenway and making a full response to ensure its fit for purpose and ideally aligned with those proposed by NI Greenways”.

Alliance Welcomes Confirmation of Plans for Bike Repair Stations

Local Alliance representatives have welcomed confirmation that Bike Repair Stations will be included in upcoming Greenway Plans throughout Ards and North Down.

Alderman Deborah Girvan and Andrew Muir MLA at Bangor Marina, with Bicycle.

 Andrew Muir, Alliance MLA for North Down said “After seeing Bike Repair Stations installed in CS Lewis Square in Belfast back in 2018, Alliance Alderman Deborah Girvan and I put a Motion to Council to consider roll out of Bicycle Repair Stations at key locations across the Borough and I’m pleased to say this secured unanimous support.” 

“Bike repair facilities comprise of 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. It’s heartening to see cycling on the increase as we move towards more sustainable modes of transport and this investment by the Council will move us up a gear towards being a more Bicycle friendly Borough.”


Bike repair station in CS Lewis Square in Belfast

 Alderman Deborah Girvan commented “I am delighted that the bicycle repair stations are included in the Council's upcoming Greenway Plan. Exact locations are yet to be determined but current plans will see these being installed along the Comber to Newtownards and Newtownards to Green Road Greenways and also on the North Down Coastal Path. We’re blessed with an abundance of natural beauty in the area and we should be doing all we can to encourage people to get out and about and enjoy it.”


Bike repair station in CS Lewis Square in Belfast


Treacherous pavements must be fixed says MLA

Pavements on Cotswold Drive off the Donaghadee Road in Bangor are in a shocking state of repair and must be prioritised for repair local Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has said.

Andrew Muir MLA with local resident Elaine Orwin and Guide Dog Maisie along Cotswold Drive in Bangor

Commenting on the issue the North Down MLA stated “We were contacted around this issue last year by local resident Elaine Orwin who is blind, reporting how difficult the cracked and uneven pavements are to navigate even with the assistance of her Guide Dog Maisie. The risk of tripping on the surfaces is a real danger and having seen for myself how bad the situation was a request was made to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to fix these as a matter of priority.” 

After DfI completed their investigation they concluded that the pavements didn’t “meet our current policy regarding intervention levels.” The pavements couldn’t be in much worse condition and while I’m aware there is serious backlog of work needing done in many areas, serious cases like this in Cotswold Drive and other areas around North Down must be prioritised given the risk to the public. I have submitted a further request asking for this work to be completed.” 

Local resident Elaine Orwin added “The pavement at Cotswold Drive is cracked and dangerous. As a blind person it is an obstacle to my independence and freedom of movement.”

 

 

Passage of reservoir legislation matter of life and death, says Muir

The passage of legislation allowing the Infrastructure Minister to deal with a number of reservoirs where urgent interventions are required is a matter of life and death, Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has said. 

The party’s Infrastructure spokesperson was speaking after the Transfers of Functions Bill was approved by MLAs in the Assembly today. It is designed to implement a safety regime for reservoirs across Northern Ireland. Members of the Infrastructure Committee have previously been told a delay in transferring the powers to the Minister meant urgent repairs required at nine reservoirs here could not be implemented. One of those Reservoirs is located within Ards and North Down Borough Council area but cannot be named for security reasons. 

“I am pleased the Executive Office have finally passed this crucially important piece of legislation after years of needless delays,” said Mr Muir. 

“This genuinely is a matter of life and death, and the Executive Office has failed in its duty to people by not bringing it forward earlier. In addition, the inaction has needlessly delayed planning applications across Northern Ireland, at a time where we should be doing everything we can to facilitate new homes, economic growth and jobs.” 

“This is only the first step in ensuring the urgent repairs at the nine reservoirs are implemented. The Infrastructure Minister now has to commence the Reservoirs Act and go through the correct legal procedures before the necessary remedial actions are taken. I urge her to move with the greatest possible speed.” 

Hansard of Andrew Muir MLA’s contribution at NI Assembly on 1 June 2021 below: 

Mr Muir: I speak as the Alliance Party's infrastructure spokesperson and as a member of the Infrastructure Committee. The approval of the motion today is required to correct an omission in the transfer of all the functions of the Rivers Agency from DAERA to the Department for Infrastructure in 2016. The motion also deals with other issues, as other Members have outlined, but I will speak primarily on the reservoirs and infrastructure. 

In the absence of formal powers, the Minister for Infrastructure has been unable to commence the Reservoirs Act, which is required so that the Minister can introduce orders and regulations to implement the reservoir safety regime provided for by the legislation, which is based on industry best practice for the management and maintenance of reservoirs. In summary, therefore, the delay in the transfer of functions has had a material impact on the Minister's ability to implement a regime that is vital for ensuring reservoir safety in Northern Ireland. 

Mr McGrath: I thank the Member for giving way. Will he agree with me that the delay was not helped by a three-year absence of this place, which was brought about by some of the parties that have to rectify some of the problems that we are addressing today? 

Mr Muir: I thank the Member for his intervention. The reason for the delay and why we are standing here today is threefold. The first part is the transfer in 2016. Secondly, these institutions did not sit for three years. We can never allow that to happen again. We failed the people of Northern Ireland by not having these institutions, and that is a serious issue. Thirdly, there was a delay in seeing this motion today. Devolution was restored in January 2020. It is now June 2021, and this motion is before us only now. Let us be clear on the reasons for the delay and also be clear that, by passing this today — hopefully, we will — this is not the finish; this is the commencement of orders. We could be a long way away from the reservoir safety regime being implemented, so this is not good enough. 

As the Department for Infrastructure has estimated, 83,000 people live within the inundation zones of our 179 reservoirs. Furthermore, there are nine reservoirs, which cannot be named for security reasons, where urgent interventions are required to deal with flood risk. I know of one of those, which I will not name today, that requires immediate work. However, without the full commencement of the Reservoirs Act, the Department has not had the power to compel that work to take place. We are still reliant upon goodwill and the attempts to invoke powers years and years after the Act was passed. Officials have confirmed that properties are located near those nine reservoirs, and there would be a risk to life and property if any of those reservoirs were to catastrophically collapse or fail. Even more concerning is the fact that, for security reasons, none of those living within the inundation zones of those nine reservoirs has been informed of the need for urgent interventions. 

In summary, today's transfer of functions is not some mere administrative quirk but an essential step — and it is just that: a step — in addressing an extremely serious issue that has potentially life-or-death consequences in Northern Ireland. The question that needs to be answered, therefore, is why on earth it has taken so long to bring this before the House. This has had a massive impact, particularly upon planning applications, as other Members outlined. I know of a number of planning applications that are now held up because the Assembly did not deliver. That is having an impact upon economic well-being and growth and on the ability to deliver housing. 

We are nearly 18 months into the restoration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, and it is only now that this matter is being dealt with. Why was this not proceeded with as a matter of urgency, and how can the Executive Office be so relaxed about it? The last time this was discussed, I understood that it was in the Executive Office. There are far too many things stuck in the Executive Office. We have a situation where you cannot even get issues onto the agenda, never mind discussed or agreed. 

People in Northern Ireland have become accustomed to certain aspects of government here moving at a glacial pace. As we have seen with COVID-19, however, when there is an emergency situation, the people of Northern Ireland demand action, and they demand action fast. It seems that, in the matter that we are debating today, the Executive Office and the two main parties that control it have totally failed in that regard. It is by sheer good fortune that no damage has been done as a result of the severe delay in bringing this before the Assembly. 

In conclusion, I will be supporting this today, and I hope that everyone else will, but I expect a full and clear explanation from the Executive Office as to why it has taken 18 months to bring this before us today, given the seriousness of the issue for people living in Northern Ireland.

Muir welcomes possible expansion of bathing water testing sites

With the popularity of open water swimming having experienced a massive boom in the past few years, swimmers are now taking an active interest in the quality and safety of the water they’re swimming in. Local North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has welcomed the possible expansion of bathing water testing sites to include several local beaches in North Down. 

Andrew Muir MLA at Brompton Beach, Bangor

Commenting on the issue Mr Muir said “North Down is blessed with some of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful beaches which have seen a huge increase in open water swimming in the past year or two as people have realised the abundance of benefits that come with sea swimming. It’s great for both physical and mental health and with our coastline being as stunning as it is, Northern Ireland is the perfect place to do it.” 

“Currently there are 26 beaches where water quality is monitored and 8 of these were awarded a blue flag in 2021. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is responsible for bathing water testing and recently confirmed there will be a review of the sites where bathing water is tested and a possible extension of the window during which sampling occurs. Currently waters are tested between the start of June and middle of September but a lot of people are now swimming all year round so it would be great to see testing take place during all seasons. 

I had submitted questions to the Minister for Agriculture around this last year in the hope that the Department would consider an expansion so this comes as very welcome news indeed. Will continue to push for change and may yet pluck up the courage to take the plunge myself at Brompton, Bangor.”

Muir pushes for progress over restoration of historic Craigowen Lodge

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has met with the owners of the historic Craigowen Lodge to push for progress in restoration of the Listed Building in Craigavad situated right beside the busy A2 Bangor to Belfast Road.

Craigowen Lodge, Craigavad, in 2016
 

Designed by Thomas Turner, a pupil of Sir Charles Lanyon, Craigowen Lodge was built in 1851 in Italianate style but has been left in a dilapidated state for many years with a tin roof now in place after a fire arising from an earlier arson attempt. A B1 Listed Building, it was originally purchased for a roads widening project which never occurred.

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “Craigowen Lodge is a beautiful building steeped in history but has sadly been left to fall into disrepair to the extent it’s now boarded up and left languishing on the Built Heritage at Risk Register. I was delighted when Hearth Housing Association intervened back in 2011 expressing an interest in acquiring the building with a view to restoration and have been campaigning hard to see that realised.

Andrew Muir MLA at Craigowen Lodge in 2021

 A Planning Application was submitted, approved and purchase completed in early 2017 but, since then, despite promises to then embark upon works nothing has materialised with planning approval now expired. The building is presently owned by Clanmill Housing Association after merger of Hearth Housing Association and Clanmil in December 2016.


Keen to see restoration take place I have been in regular and sustained contact with Clanmill to discuss barriers to progress and lobbied both the Housing Executive and Department for Communities to give much needed grant assistance but to no avail. First I was told it was due to rules that could only be amended by a Minister and then, with a Minister in place, further reasons thrown up why funds can’t flow.


It’s little wonder listed buildings are allowed to fall into ruin with current lacklustre response from government in Northern Ireland. Often it seems we only care about our Built Environment when beautiful structures from our past are either in imminent peril of collapse or lost forever.


My recent meeting with Clanmill Housing has however left me more encouraged that action to get the building restored to a beautiful home may be on the horizon with the Board of Clanmill soon to discuss and hopefully agree a plan push matters forward. I will continue to engage with Clanmill as these discussions develop powered on by a passionate desire to ensure the lovely lodge is restored its original glory.


I will also keep pushing both the Communities and Finance Ministers to release more funding to save this and other historic buildings across Northern Ireland which risk being lost forever without much needed grant assistance”


Craigowen Lodge Built Heritage at Risk Register Reference HB23/16/001 B Approved Planning Permission at W/2015/0049/LBC, since expired.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Alliance Party 2021 Virtual Spring Conference Speech

In approaching today’s debate I watched the documentary as part of the Imagine! Annual Festival of Ideas and Politics about the painting which now hangs in the Senate Chamber named ‘The House will divide' recording all the members of the first Assembly elected in 1998.

Filmed in 2002 just as the Assembly fell, once again, looking back it is not hard to acknowledge how things have changed, for good or ill.  Northern Ireland is a vastly different and diverse place. Bob McCartney is gone, Alliance are much bigger and the Ulster Unionists now the fifth largest party.

But, nearly twenty three years on from the Good Friday Agreement and nineteen from the documentary the people of Northern Ireland deserve better than an Assembly that has entirely failed to progress any substantive social change since foundation.

Such issues have just either been blocked, vetoed, deferred or defeated for decades.

I’m proud to serve as an Alliance MLA in the Assembly and have worked hard for the people of North Down over the last year dealing with over nine hundreds individual issues, responding to legislation, working to get support to businesses, improved investment in Active Travel, a better Planning System and pushing for government to get real about tackling the Cost of Division but if devolution is really to succeed it must deliver progress not deadlock, dither and the need to defer to others when it’s determined too difficult to deal with.

Far too often my LGBT brothers and sisters, women and others have had to wait for Stormont to fall and power to pass to Westminster for change to happen.

This can’t continue.

But as Harvey Milk said “Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.” The duty to deliver change rests on progressives to put themselves forward and get elected or help push others across the line.

Northern Ireland’s new rainbow of minorities need to stand-up and get elected to shake up and shine brightly at Stormont

It cannot be right that John Blair and I are the only gays in the Assembly nor that females are so poorly represented.

With the old certainties of the past now cast aside, now is the Chance for Change.

We need an Assembly reflective of society focused on the future not stuck frozen in the past

An awful lot has changed since 1998 but little in terms of the rigid structures of the Assembly which just solidify separation.

The first act of a new Assembly should be focused on uniting and celebrating our new diverse and different society not dividing and splitting up MLAs into two tribes

We ought to be the first, not the last, UK nation to ban Conversion Therapy, leading the way, not brought kicking and screaming.

But this won’t happen unless Alliance continues to surge ahead and turning polling statistics into more votes and more representatives.

I am confident we can do that with courage and determination. Alan Turing, a personal hero of mine, once said “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” 

Let’s get done and grasp the Chance for Change.

Friday, 26 March 2021

Muir raises need for North Down Active Travel investment with Minister Mallon

North Down Alliance MLA and Alliance Party Infrastructure and Finance Spokesperson Andrew Muir MLA raised the need to invest in new Active Travel initiatives in North Down with the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon MLA at Stormont on Monday 22 March 2021. 

The keen runner, cyclist and Alliance MLA wants to see an Active Travel Hub established in Bangor similar to the successful operation already in place at C.S. Lewis Square in East Belfast alongside investment in the One Path initiative to better enable respectful shared use of the North Down Coastal Path. 

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “With just £22,500 due to be spent this year on Active Travel within North Down it’s essential the Infrastructure Minister cuts us a bigger slice of cake both in terms of day to day resource spending and one off capital projects. 

Whilst Greenway Capital Investment Plans are being progressed the complete lack of day to day resource spending on Active Travel initiatives must end. Only by ploughing money in new innovative measures will we achieve the Green Recovery needed. 

With the Active Travel Hub in C.S. Lewis Square proving to be a roaring success acting as a real hub for cyclists and great way to better encourage Active Travel action must be swiftly taken to introduce something similar in Bangor encouraging people to make the journey into and around the Town by two as opposed to four wheels. 

Already rolled out along the Comber Greenway, the One Path initiative has also proven to be a good way to tackle conflict and encourage good respectful relations along busy paths used by walkers, runners, cyclists and more. With the numbers using the North Down Coastal Path at an all-time high in light of the pandemic it’s essential the Department for Infrastructure fully fund the introduction of the One Path initiative and help us together encourage shared, safe and respectful use of the jewel in North Down’s crown.”

More information on Active Travel Hubs at https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/projects/2019/northern-ireland/active-travel-hubs/ and One Path Initiative at https://www.sustrans.org.uk/for-professionals/our-approach/one-path-initiative-developing-a-positive-culture-on-busy-paths/#:~:text=The%20One%20Path%20Initiative%20is,rather%20than%20rules%20and%20regulations.

 

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Muir seeking Ministerial meeting over increasing parking chaos

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir is requesting a meeting with the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon MLA after ever increasing issues concerning parking problems close to local Beaches and Beauty spots such as Helen’s Bay, Crawfordsburn and Seapark in Holywood. 

Local residents have been inundating the local Alliance MLA with complaints about vehicles parked on double yellow lines, obstructing driveways and pavement parking blocking passage by pedestrians. 

Concerns have also been expressed about a seemingly large beach party on Saturday 6 March in Helen’s Bay with swimmers experiencing lumps of burnt wood and charcoal the following morning plus broken bottles and litter on the beach. 

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “As Northern Ireland emerges from Winter into Spring with weather improving and more people seeking to exercise and enjoy the outdoors in the context of COVID-19 an increase in visitors is being experienced at many Beaches and Beauty Spots. 

Unfortunately, whilst the vast majority people are considerate of others, some motorists are causing misery for local residents abandoning cars regardless of the impact upon others with parking restrictions ignored, driveways blocked and pedestrians pushed onto the road as a result of pavement parking. 

There’s real frustration from local residents at the lack of enforcement both by the Department for Infrastructure and Police which I have previously raised in formal correspondence to the Infrastructure Minister but without success hence why I feel the real and urgent need to meet. At my meeting with the Minister I hope to outline the range of issues and seek better attention by red coat parking attendants to problem areas in the context of the woefully low number of tickets issued in recent times. 

I met with the local Police Commander on Thursday 4 March with my Alliance colleagues Dr Stephen Farry MP, Councillors Gillian Greer and Connie Egan and, whilst promises of increased action to deal with parking obstructing driveways and pavements are welcome there’s a real need for this to be matched with action and better and faster responses to issues, such as the events on Saturday night.” 

Concluding, Andrew Muir MLA stated “I have also raised concerns with the Council concerning areas under their control, the Environment Minister with regards to Crawfordsburn Country Park and the Infrastructure Minister concerning Bus and Rail services. I am presently seeking a follow-up meeting with Translink to explore what more can be done to stop problem whereby hundreds are conveyed on hot summer days to areas such as Helen’s Bay with resulting problems throughout the day and into the night as people seek to return home. 

2020 was a year associated with a number of high profile problems for local people as a result of the influx of visitors. 2021 cannot be like ground hog day, things must change via a combination of better personal responsibility and improved response from statutory bodies”.

Statistics concerning number of Parking Tickets previously issued at http://www.andrewmuir.net/2020/09/alliance-representatives-call-for.html 

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Muir asks people to think twice before visiting Local Beauty Spots

Alliance North Down MLA Andrew Muir has called on people to think twice before visiting oversubscribed local beauty spots as the weather improves with the onset of spring. 

Commenting on the issue Mr Muir said “I understand how difficult this third lockdown has been for everyone and how vital exercise is in terms of keeping us healthy both mentally and physically. However there are several local hotspots that tend to become inundated with visitors even under normal times and are now at risk of being completely swamped given increased attendance due to lockdown.” 

“It is important that people take personal responsibility for their journeys and stay closer to home to exercise where possible. The sheer volume of visitors to these areas is making parking completely unmanageable, causing disruption for nearby residents and making social distancing almost impossible. We saw what happened last year with hundreds of people gathering at local beaches causing chaos, with even one police officer being attacked while trying to disperse crowds at Ballyholme.” 

“I have reached out to the relevant authorities to check that sufficient preparations have been put in place to manage this in the run up to spring. We must be pro-active in terms of planning ahead to deal with this risk and also in reminding people that even when they are technically allowed to go somewhere under regulations, it doesn’t mean they should.”

Monday, 15 February 2021

Alliance urge Infrastructure Minister to act over Ballysallagh Bridge Road Strikes


Local Alliance representatives have called for definitive action from the Infrastructure Minister to do more to prevent further bridge collisions on the Ballysallagh Road, Craigantlet, following several incidents in recent years. 

Commenting on the issue North Down Andrew Muir MLA stated, “This bridge in particular has seen many strikes over the years and being on a busy commuter route each time this occurs it causes severe disruption to the road network. I asked The Minister a formal Written Assembly Question around why her Department was unwilling to do more to prevent further incidents and was informed that they consider current signage and markings to be sufficient.” 

“The Road was closed for several weeks following one particular strike by a heavy goods vehicle in late 2019 causing traffic chaos in the area and misery for local residents. It’s clear additional signage alone isn’t enough to stop this happening again.” 

Alliance Councillor Gillian Greer stated, “It is glaringly obvious that unless further measures are put in place this will just keep happening time and time again. Luckily most incidents have only caused superficial damage but the risk of a serious road traffic collision is very real and the Department needs to step up before this is allowed to happen.”

QUESTION

Andrew Muir MLA (North Down)

To ask the Minister for Infrastructure why her Department is unwilling to consider further measures to reduce and inhibit bridge collisions on Ballysallagh Road, Craigantlet, following collisions in recent times.

ANSWER

NICHOLA MALLON MLA (Minister for Infrastructure)

Following a bridge strike in early 2018 my officials carried out a review which resulted in a series of additional signs being erected. This brings the total number of signs on the bridge and the approach roads to fifteen.

Officials have installed significant signage and markings on the approaches and on the bridge to alert drivers to its presence. I am advised this is sufficient and as such there are no plans for further measures at this time. There are limitations to what my Department can do and there is a responsibility on drivers of high vehicles who are expected to know their vehicle size and to plan their routes to avoid hazards such as low bridges.

Muir urges Minister to sort road works nightmare on Groomsport Road, Bangor

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has asked the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on works to address the multitude of problems relating to the road surface adjacent to the new housing development at The Banks on Groomsport Road, Bangor.

Commenting on the issue he said “After receiving a number of residents’ complaints relating to noise and vibrations coming from the faulty road surface and maintenance hole cover on the road outside the development I was glad to see commissioning of a report with findings sent to the Roads Service and NI Water. The lack of progress in implementing the solutions needed is however greatly disappointing. Residents should not have to suffer this nightmare with local people unable to sleep due to noise and vibrations coming from faulty road surface when vehicles pass.

NI Water had confirmed the maintenance hole cover would be replaced and other remedial works carried out in the New Year but level of progress has been pitifully slow resulting in need for me to contact the Department for Infrastructure emergency out of hours service last Saturday in light of the serious road hazard caused to passing motorists by faulty maintenance hole cover.

I have tabled formal question to the Infrastructure Minister and urge her to swiftly bring this nightmare to an end without any more delay"

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Muir calls on Developer to complete Crawfordsburn Main Street road surface works

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has called for long overdue remedial works to be carried out to the road surface entering the new Crawfordsburn Village Brow Development off Crawfordsburn Main Street after multiple requests to the developer to fix the situation. 

Commenting on the issue Mr Muir said  “I attended a site meeting last February with the developer to discuss this, and while I understand the pandemic may have hindered progress it is now almost a year later and still unresolved. The road surface is still very uneven with potholes and the footpaths also need to be finished to an appropriate standard. 

It is the developer’s responsibility to see these works are fully completed and I have put in multiple requests to them to remedy this, most recently in January of this year after being told action would be taken prior to Christmas. I will continue to push for this to be resolved.”