Alliance plans to tackle Cost of Living crisis

With the Cost of Living Crisis hitting homes hard North Down Alliance MP Stephen Farry and MLA Andrew Muir have set out a range of actions that should be taken to help people struggling to meet rising bills with ever increasing energy costs proving crippling for so many. 

The Westminster and Stormont representatives have urged the UK Government to intervene coupled with a restored Northern Ireland Executive to lead on delivery of range of immediate initiatives to assist households.

North Down Alliance MLA and Party Finance Spokesperson Andrew Muir commented “With countless people across North Down and beyond struggling to make ends meet we need an Executive in Northern Ireland to deliver assistance desperately required to help relieve the pain being felt by many. 

The invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces at the behest of Vladimir Putin is resulting in horrendous loss of life, need for a full and generous humanitarian response and further worsening the Cost of Living pressures felt by millions of homes across Europe and beyond making the need for an urgent response even more critical.

A range of initiatives should be taken locally in Northern Ireland to help families and individuals faced with rocketing household bills. A Home Heating Support Grant to supplement both the Winter Fuel Payment scheme and recent Energy Payment Support Scheme should be delivered utilising some of the £300million sitting idle due to the lack of an Executive. Assistance of HMRC is crucial to ensure it is targeted not just at those in receipt of benefits but also low income households, who are suffering a massive impact from rising energy costs. 

A Child Payment Scheme to protect children in already vulnerable circumstances should also be launched providing a per child weekly payment for any family with children in receipt of Free School Meals plus for pre-school age children in low income households.

With the highest percentage of homes using heating oil in Western Europe Home Heating Oil should be brought within the remit of the Utility Regulatory, ensuring price transparency for consumers, bringing this market in line with gas and electricity.

A much more ambitious, generous and faster roll out of energy efficiency grant schemes must also take place with attic and cavity wall installation more widely available to reduce household energy use alongside investment in renewable energy sources of the future including Hydrogen”

Stephen Farry MP added:

"Current Government plans are for Universal Credit and other benefits are to rise at 3.1% in April. But this was the inflation rate last September.  However, inflation is forecasted to hit between 6-7%. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation anticipates that, based on the Government’s current plans, nine million low-income families, both in work and out of work, would experience a real terms cut of £500 a year, while pensioner couples would lose £540 a year. This is in addition to the recent cut to incomes of households on universal credit, when the £20 a week top-up was withdrawn.  

“Furthermore, the National Insurance hike that was announced by the Government is a regressive tax. It wasn't justified then, and is really challenging now.  

"I have written to the Chancellor ahead of the Spring Financial Statement asking for both of these to be reconsidered in light of the Ukraine crisis and the much greater cost of living crisis.”

Proposals at bit.ly/3MEpjV2

Muir raises St Anne's Integration Bid with Education Minister

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir raised St Anne’s Primary Schools’ bid for transformation to integrated status with the Education Minister this week during Question Time at The Assembly. 

Parents of children at St Anne’s recently voted overwhelmingly in favour of transformation to integration in a parental ballot. A timeline for the next steps of the process is now being put together by the Education Authority and Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE). 

Andrew Muir MLA at St Anne’s
Primary School Donaghadee

Commenting on the issue Mr Muir said “I warmly welcome the proposals for the transformation of St Anne’s Primary School to integrated status and will be supporting the school in any way I can as it goes on the journey through this process.” 

“I was keen to ascertain from the Minister what she was doing to assess both pupil and parental preference in the area in the context of the recent vote. Given the overwhelming vote of confidence from existing parents and the demand for further provision of integrated school places in general in Northern Ireland, it is important that the Department take into consideration the real likelihood that demand for places will increase substantially in the years ahead.” 

“It is currently a small school but with many more families choosing Donaghadee as a place to live I am confident the years ahead would see a marked increase in enrolment especially if the school is successful in its bid for transformation to integration.” 

“It is still early days but I was delighted the Minister accepted my invitation to visit the school to meet with parents and the school leadership to discuss the its future in the years ahead.”

Official Report: Tuesday 25 January 2022 

St Anne’s Primary School, Donaghadee: Integrated Status 

T2. Mr Muir asked the Minister of Education, in the context of the decision by parents to recently overwhelmingly support a proposal for St Anne’s Primary School, Donaghadee to transform to integrated status, which he warmly welcomes, what she is doing to assess parental and pupil preference in the area. (AQT 1972/17-22) 

Miss McIlveen: I thank the Member for his question. I was very privileged to be able to visit St Anne's Primary School before Christmas, and I got a very warm welcome, I have to say. The Member will understand that there is also a development proposal for St Anne's that makes it very difficult for me to comment, as I may be the ultimate decision maker for it. However, I am very mindful that a ballot for transformation was supported by the parents. I understand that the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and the Education Authority are working together closely on a timeline for the work that will need to take place post the ballot. 

Mr Muir: I thank the Minister for her response. Donaghadee is a growing town with many new houses, and families are choosing it as a place to live. An integrated primary school in the town would be a great development. Will the Minister accept my invitation to meet parents and the school leadership in order to discuss the school and the future for it in Donaghadee? 

Miss McIlveen: I am more than happy to do that.

Muir raises Queen's Parade planning approval with Minister Mallon

Andrew Muir MLA asking question to
Minister Mallon

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir raised the long awaited and much delayed Queen’s Parade development with the Infrastructure Minister in the Assembly on Monday 28 February, on the same day he was informed by Minister Mallon that the Planning Application is top of the list in being held by the Department for the longest period compared to all others at 52 weeks. 

Commenting on the development, Andrew Muir MLA stated “The foot dragging, dither and delay from the Department for Infrastructure over the long overdue and much awaited regeneration of Queen’s Parade is scandalous. 

The scale of delay is strongly illustrated by the shocking statistic that Queen’s Parade is the longest delayed planning application across whole of Northern Ireland when it comes to those subject to a holding direction where the Department and intervened and halted Council issuing planning approval. 

Whilst I welcome the Minister’s response to my question in the Assembly Chamber that matters are being finalised and a decision due as soon as possible sadly we’ve heard all this before. I’ve a large file of letters urging the Minister to act and only recently met with Minister Mallon urging progress but things are sadly moving as slow as a snail. The procrastination, stalling and playing for time has to stop. The Minister must intervene and let Council proceed and give approval now, the people of Bangor should not be told to wait one day longer”. 

Assembly Question response concerning planning applications subject to a holding direction attached.

Official Report: Monday 28 February 2022 

Mr Muir: Last year, your Department put a hold on Ards and North Down Borough Council's giving approval for the Queen's Parade development in Bangor. We are still waiting, 13 months later. When will you, as Minister, intervene, give the green light for that to go ahead and lift the holding direction that has been imposed on Ards and North Down Borough Council? 

Ms Mallon: The Member and I have met to discuss that issue. He will be aware of the work that has been ongoing between my Department, the council and other key stakeholders to try to make progress. The holding direction was issued by my Department in February last year, and it is in place. The assessment of the notification is being finalised. It is my intention to respond to the council as soon as possible with a decision as to whether the application should be referred to my Department for determination. I assure you that I am mindful of the importance of reaching a decision on the matter and avoiding any unnecessary delays.