Coleraine council confirms re-opening of rail line – Clodagh Rice

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Coleraine Borough Council has welcomed the announcement from Translink that the railway line between Coleraine and Londonderry will reopen on March 24th.

Mr Mal McGreevy, a representative from Translink, told the council last night that the line is to re-open one week ahead of schedule.

This year has seen the introduction of 20 new trains across Northern Ireland, as well as a new timetable for Coleraine services.

From January 6th, there has been a 70% increase in trains from Belfast to Coleraine. Services will now operate 19 times a day – 16 times on a Saturday and seven times on a Sunday.

There will also be four commuter trains in mornings, some of which will be extended from three to six carriages.

Passenger numbers are continuing to grow at a “remarkable rate” and there has been a 10-15% increase on last year’s figures.

This will however mean that trains from Belfast to Londonderry will now pass through Coleraine in morning services, adding 19 minutes to the journey time.

Councillor David McClarty praised the bright future of the service which he described as “resurrected” given not long ago the council had been predicting the demise of the route.

Many other councillors joined Mr McClarty in his praise, including Councillor Barbour who commended the “greatly enhanced” public service.

The Mayor also congratulated Translink on their developments and expressed his thanks for the opening of the new line given the landscape is “second to none.”

Mr McGreevy concluded with the announcement of a report that is to be published throughout the year by the Department of Rural Development highlighting issues with the transport services.

The report estimates that £600 million will be needed in the next 25 years in order to maintain the current services which are said to be worth more than 10 times that amount.

Without further extensions, services are estimated to cost £30 million a year.  However Mr McGreevy did add that he would like to consider more opportunities for improvements to existing services, such as the extension of all trains from three to six carriages.

 

 

Fun for all the family exploring the past. Cultra Review

Nothing rivals a spring day spent outdoors with friends exploring beautiful parklands and learning about traditions of times gone by, and Cultra Ulster Folk and Transport Museum will provide such a pleasure. Visit the Website

On a bank holiday, the visitor attraction is a hive of activity. First impressions are positive with friendly and welcoming reception staff, plus the added bonus that entrance to both museums cost only £9 for adults and £5 for children.

Boredom isn’t an issue inside the museum with plenty to keep all age groups entertained. Buying sweets the old fashioned way in an authentic sweet shop or visiting an old style cinema are some of many things to discover in old style Ballycultra town. Visitors can also ‘receive their sentence’ in court or be sent to the ‘dunce corner’ of the traditional schoolroom. However if mischievous behaviour is not befitting of you, then the church house, with the singing of traditional psalms, would be more appropriate.

Other spectacles include an old time police station, drapers’ shop, and a carpenters’ workshop where visitors will observe a costumed guide demonstrating his trade. There are special activities provided on holidays. A magic show will keep the children intrigued while others experience Victorian style fashion by dressing up in traditional clothes.

When exploring living conditions and countryside of yesteryear, visitors can appreciate the luxuries we have today. Inspecting small houses that typically would have homed large families, while turning a hand to making soda bread and butter from scratch, you can gain an excellent impression of life 100 years ago. On the farm, visitors can pet pigs, lambs and chicks plus roll Easter eggs, an activity not just enjoyed by the children! The museum’s Facebook page will give further details of special events.

The Transport Museum is an impressive building with many attractions. However one drawback is transferring between Ballycultra and the Transport Museum. There is a complementary shuttle bus that operates between the two museums however, this is small and often runs at irregular times, meaning that a long, uphill walk is necessary back to the carpark.

Facilities are first class with a 4* restaurant on site and many public toilets. Opening times are 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday from May through September, therefore with all its various attractions, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum provides a great day out for everyone.

For other great days out, visit Discover Northern Ireland.

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Council story: Campbell criticised at council

Over 250 DVLA jobs are set to be moved from Coleraine’s County Hall (above) to Swansea.

UUP Councillors have slammed local MP Gregory Campbell for failing to “rally” councillors over the threat of DVLA job losses in County Hall.

It is feared 259 jobs will be moved from Coleraine to Swansea as part of ongoing centralisation in the DVLA. Councillors David Barbour and William McCandless, speaking at the Policy and Development Committee meeting on Tuesday evening, weren’t happy at how the DUP’s Campbell handled the situation.

Barbour complained: “It’s been coming for 18 months. The council did not know and weren’t told about it until the last minute. We’re very shocked about it. We should all get together and work out a strategy in advance for the good of all involved.”

McCandless was also disappointed that the council were not notified about the potential job losses sooner and claimed that, “It’s disappointing that the MP and MLAs didn’t rally us sooner. If we had garnered all of our resources, we might have had a more positive outcome. A concerted effort could have had significant weight. We can’t do anything about it now.”

McCandless hastened to add “this is not an attack on the DUP. It’s not one party attacking another” but DUP councillors at the meeting leapt to Campbell’s defence.

“It (potential job losses) had been reported in the (Coleraine) Chronicle three or four times over the last two years. Were we all really surprised? The MP has worked very hard on the matter,” said Mayor Maurice Bradley while councillors Mark Fielding and James McClure shared his sentiments.

Town Clerk and Chief Executive Roger Wilson agreed that there was “wide knowledge” of the DVLA’s centralisation.

Wilson also claimed that the job losses “would be a devastating blow and we will do all we can to ensure the jobs are kept. For a town like Coleraine, losing them would have a huge impact.”

Wilson added that “all of the lobbying and pressure that can be applied is being applied”.

More positively, councillors praised the decision to open a new prison at Magilligan.

“This will create new jobs, keep current jobs and I’m very pleased at the decision,” said councillor McClure.

Coleraine Council welcome improved railway line

Coleraine Borough Council met in the council offices in Cloonavin on Tuesday 19th February 2013 at 6.30pm.

Deputy Mayor Alderman Creelman, chairman for the evening, opened proceedings by welcoming everyone to the meeting.

The first item of business was an update from the General Manager of Rail Services in Translink, Mr Mal McGreevy. He addressed the council on the upcoming opening of the improved Coleraine and Londonderry/Derry rail line.

Mr McGreevy revealed twenty new trains will operate on this line, as opposed to the original thirteen.

In response to the 70% increase in passengers travelling on trains between Belfast and Coleraine, Mr McGreevy stressed, “It was necessary to implement a new timetable that would see trains running hourly.” Trains have been increased from eleven to nineteen per day, Monday to Friday and eight on a Sunday.

Mr McGreevy told the chamber, “The line will reopen one week ahead of schedule on 24th March 2013”, while adding this had been, “A challenging programme.”

Councillor McClarty extended his praise of the reopening to the gathered councillors, commenting that not many years ago the prediction for the line was demise, but now he is pleased that there is, “A bright future ahead for the railways of Northern Ireland.” Making reference to the service provided by Translink, he further added, “The service is now tremendous” and that he was, “Looking forward to travelling on the improved line.”

Councillors heard how Translink have installed new technology, enabling passengers to access a ‘wifi’ network when travelling. This new service will allow passengers to connect to the internet free of charge whilst on the move, giving them the opportunity to check emails, browse social network sites or catch up on work whilst travelling with Translink. The new scheme was widely praised by the majority of the gathered councillors and it was commented that this added a new incentive for people to use public transport.

Councillor Barbour echoed this praise by adding he thought it was a, “Great idea to be able to use computers on a train.” He also made the comparison that this wifi scheme would help to, “Enhance our tourist rate” and, “Help us economically.”

Mayor, Councillor Cole ended the item of business by commenting, “I cannot wait to get using my free pass to try out the line.”

The meeting continued by following the next item of business on the agenda.

Council Report

Mal McGreevy began the Coleraine Borough Council meeting on 19th February 2013 with an update on the Coleraine-Derry/Londonderry rail line.

Mr McGreevy, General Manager of Rail Services at Translink, confirmed that the Coleraine-Derry/Londonderry line will reopen one week ahead of schedule on the 24th March.

He continued to outline what progress Translink had made in recent times. The number of services between Belfast and Coleraine had increased by around 70% as numbers of passengers using the service had increased by 10-15% on the previous year.

There will also be a train commencing on the 25th March leaving from Belfast and arriving in Derry/Londonderry at 8.25am – the earliest time a train has arrived at the destination via this route. However, this early train will be 19 minutes longer than the usual journey.

Mr McGreevy said, “We made a commitment many years ago to what some people called the ‘lesser used lines’. We now have no lesser used lines.”

Councillors were impressed by the figures given and were in agreement that it was a good boost for the area.

Cllr McClarty commented, “It is not that long ago that we were predicting the demise of our train line. I think that everyone should be supporting Translink and what they are doing.”

Deputy Mayor Maura Hickey added, “It really does help us economically here in Coleraine. It is a great asset.”

Mr McGreevy completed his presentation by mentioning what needed to be done in future years to consolidate the hard work that has already been completed.

He said, “Over £600 million will be needed in the next 25-30 years just to maintain the network that we have. Without further extensions, services are expected to cost £30 million per year. I think it is important to recognise what we have done but to continue investment.”

A consultation date has been set for the 15th April to discuss further upgrades to the network, including having more six-carriage trains in service.

Cervical cancer – Awareness and prevention in Northern Ireland

Every day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three lives are lost to the disease, a major charity has warned.

In Northern Ireland, women are invited to cervical screening appointments at the age of 25. However, the uptake of women attending smear tests is lower than the rest of the UK with one in four women ignoring the invitation completely.

Health Minister, Edwin Poots said: “Raising public awareness of cervical cancer prevention is important because in Northern Ireland almost a quarter of women still do not attend for cervical screening, however there has been a steady increase in the proportion of eligible women attending for cervical screening.”

Reasons for this figure include confusion, embarrassment, fear and a lack of convenient appointment times for working women. Many women are unaware of the symptoms of the disease, such as lower back pain, which can often be misdiagnosed as minor ailments. However the consequences of a missed smear test can be very severe.

Cervical Cancer factboxes
Cervical Cancer factboxes

It is because of this that Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust launched Cervical Cancer Awareness Week at the beginning of this year to help increase awareness of the issue. Bus campaigns were launched in January along with the first ever support group meeting for people affected by the disease.

Michelle Roe is leading the Belfast support group and has previously been diagnosed with the illness.

She said: “I had advanced cervical cancer myself and Jo’s Trust was a lifeline to me when I was going through treatment. I wanted to help other women, so I heard about the group being set up and have been working for them since September.”

Since her diagnosis, Michelle has undergone a radical hysterectomy and had her ovaries and lymph nodes removed. She suffers from bowel damage, lymphoedema, infertility and going through the menopause in her thirties. In addition, Michelle has completed more than 40 sessions of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and internal radiotherapy. Michelle has emphasised the need to educate women on how this cancer can be prevented.

She added: “Please don’t put off having your smear, a few minutes of discomfort could save your life or having to go through all that painstaking treatment I went through, which compared to a smear is nothing.”

Donna Hand is also leading the support group and began her training last year. Her role is to facilitate support group meetings within the Belfast area to help provide support to women living with or beyond cancer.

She said: “Our first meeting was really to establish the group, we talked about Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and its history and what the charity aims to achieve and then it was really an open forum discussion for women to talk about cervical cancer and their experiences.”

“We have had a positive response from all those who attended our first meeting. As the group is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, the nursing professionals who attended are delighted that Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust are investing its services here in Northern Ireland and have already and I know will be a great support in referring patients to the group in the future,” she added.

Prior to her role with the charity, Donna supported her mother and aunt who both lost their lives to cancer. In addition, she was personally treated for abnormal cells in 2005, which may have progressed into cancer later on in life if they had not been discovered in regular smear tests.

She said: “For me, the past five years has been a rollercoaster of emotion and I still find it hard to comprehend life without my mum but I know that she would be extremely proud of me and the voluntary work that I am doing with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.”

There was a large increase in the number of women attending screening in 2008, following Jade Goody diagnosis. Since then, figures have fallen back to pre-2008 levels.

Donna said: “I fully understand the power of celebrity but feel that it is very sad when that’s what it takes for women to take notice and attend screening.”

“I can’t stress enough how vitally important it is for ladies to attend regular screening and look after their health,” she added.

The Department of Health has implemented a four year action plan from 2012 – 2015 to help promote informed choice in cancer screening which has been developed by the Public Health Agency. This includes actions to promote cervical screening.

Health Minister Edwin Poots stressed: “I would urge all women to take up her invite for cervical screening when asked to do so. The message is clear – screening saves lives.”

 

Councillors pleased with improvements to North Coast rail lines

BY JAYNE MCCORMACK

The Derry/Londonderry train line has seen a "major refurbishment"
The Derry/Londonderry train line has seen a “major refurbishment”

Coleraine councillors were told of the huge transformation to the North Coast’s railway system at their meeting on Tuesday, 19 February.

Mal McGreevy, general manager of rail services at Translink, said that there had been a 70% increase in the number of trains operating between Belfast to Coleraine and Coleraine to Belfast.

He told councillors that Translink was “very grateful to Coleraine” and that the new timetable, which came into effect on 6 January 2013, meant that there were now 19 trains operating to Coleraine every weekday, with 16 operating on Saturdays and at least 7 on Sundays – a huge boost for the town’s transport.

Councillors were also pleased to hear that passenger numbers were up 10-15% from last year.

Mr McGreevy spoke about the re-opening of part of the Derry/Londonderry line, which has undergone a “major refurbishment” and confirmed that the line would be accessible again from Saturday, 24 March, a week ahead of schedule.

He said the first morning train would arrive in Derry/Londonderry at 8.25am on Monday, 25 March and added, “There has never been a train arriving in Derry/Londonderry before 9am before.”

Cllr David Harding was the first to commend Translink for their efforts. He said, “The people of Castlerock are excited, and people out there have missed the line badly.”

Cllr David McClarty said, “Not too long ago we were predicting the demise of railway in Northern Ireland and now it has been totally resurrected.”

Another issue high on the agenda was the 2013 Somme Association pilgrimage to the Somme, France from 28 June to 2 July.

The pilgrimage will mark the 97th anniversary of the battle, and councillors debated over who should attend.  They agreed to send Cllr Gerry McLaughlin, whose father fought in the Somme, and the outgoing Mayor, Samuel Cole.

The council normally sends the incoming mayor and a councillor to the pilgrimage, but Mr McClarty proposed an amendment, arguing that, “The incoming mayor is a busy person” and that outgoing Mayor Cole should attend because he was too busy to attend as incoming mayor in 2012.

All councillors voted in favour of the amendment, and Cllr Yvonne Boyle said it would be a “wonderful” opportunity for Mr McLaughlin.

The council also considered proposals for a 24-month pilot project to deliver a free, public Wi-Fi service on Portrush beaches.

A free Wi-Fi service will be piloted for 24 months on Portrush beaches
A free Wi-Fi service will be piloted for 24 months on Portrush beaches

When asked by Cllr Barbour if he envisaged people using their computers on the beach, Alan Jeffers, Regeneration Manager of the Portrush Regeneration programme, said that computers and Wi-Fi provisions are “very much a part of the new generation.”

 

 

For more information about Coleraine Borough Council, visit their website.

Fracking Future to be Decided

 

fracking oil pump

The possibility of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, in Northern Ireland could be decided within the next 12 months.

The Northern Ireland Assembly passed a moratorium in December 2011 by 49 votes to 30 to allow more time to assess the safety of the procedure, which Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is yet to introduce. However, Australian company Tamboran are hopeful of starting to extract gas in Fermanagh in 2014.

The fracking procedure involves pumping up to 10 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals into gaps in shale rock hundreds of metres below the ground. This process is intended to fracture the rock, releasing methane gas in doing so. The released gas is then collected in a well located onshore. However, opponents say that too little is known about the process and that an environmental assessment is necessary before continuing.

frack

Phil Flanagan, Sinn Féin MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said that his party are against fracking and that his constituents were “overwhelmingly opposed” to the idea.

He said, “Sinn Féin are opposed to fracking for a number of reasons; the damage that will be done to the landscape, the industrialisation of rural Ireland will devastate tourism, the potential for water contamination is much too great and the additional noise and air pollution that will come with this would be very unwelcome.”

He also claimed, “Fracking will not cause a reduction in energy prices as each pad costs million of pounds to frack. These pads have only become economically viable as a result of recent energy price rises and its success is reliant on continuing price rises.”

Fermanagh resident Elaine Fullerton echoed these views, and told of her worry if fracking is given the go-ahead.

She said, “I wasn’t entirely sure what fracking was until last year, but after a bit of research I can say that I don’t want to see it in Northern Ireland let alone Fermanagh. The evidence points to how unsafe it is, I can’t possibly see how it can be made safe.”

“All we can do is hope the government think of something other than the money it can raise. It isn’t worth the risk, especially if someone could be injured or killed.”

Fracking has already been introduced by other countries. President Barack Obama is a supporter of fracking, although it has been banned in several states including New York and Vermont. There have been numerous reports of incidents involving fracking in the US, including water contamination and small explosions. France, Bulgaria and South Africa are amongst other countries to ban the process.

Despite these incidents, there are arguments for the introduction of fracking in Northern Ireland.  Gas reserves in North West Ireland are estimated to be worth over £80bn, with prices rising. Gas collected by fracking companies can be used as a source of energy for Ireland as well as sold abroad to other countries.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said that fracking was not a black and white issue.

He said, “There are concerns of environmental damage, which were less of a concern three years ago, but there is a potentially cheaper form of energy to be gained. If there is potentially some damage then the more concerned I would be.”

He continued, “I would be prepared to contemplate further survey work but I wouldn’t be prepared to rule fracking out completely.”

Ballinamallard local Niall Burke is in favour of fracking, but stressed only if it could be done in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

He said, “I know fracking involves the use of certain chemicals. I’d be against this as I try to be as economically friendly as I can and this would do a great deal of damage. If it can be done somehow without the use of these chemicals then I don’t see why not.

“It would bring a lot of money into Northern Ireland at a difficult time, especially when flag protestors have damaged the country’s reputation to an extent.”

In an interview last year with Natural Gas Europe, CEO of Tamboran Richard Moorman said that the company “will abide by strict environmental policies to ensure that shale gas excavation will not damage the environment in Northern Ireland and will continue to follow the directives of the government in these matters.”

He continued, “Despite the misinformation spread by anti-development groups, we know our operations are safe. With over 4 million wells drilled worldwide, and over 1 million of those hydraulically fractured, there is no question that natural gas can be safely produced in Northern Ireland for the benefit of its citizens and local communities.”

For now, fracking in Northern Ireland has been put on the backburner. The future for this controversial process lies with further tests and environmental assessments to be carried out over the coming year.

Return of the Mac: CD Review

The world rejoiced earlier this year when legendary rock group Fleetwood Mac announced a 2013 world tour. Jayne McCormack takes a trip down nostalgia lane to explain why ‘Rumours’ is still one of the best albums of all time.

Fleetwood Mac's 35th anniversary edition of 'Rumours'
Fleetwood Mac’s 35th anniversary edition of ‘Rumours’

Music lovers everywhere are ecstatic that the band responsible for classics including ‘Little Lies’, ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Tusk’ is hitting the road once more to please millions of Fleetwood fans worldwide.

This year marks the re-release of their greatest album ‘Rumours’ (1978), which has been repackaged for a 35-year anniversary edition (a year too late, strangely) with an additional two discs of previously unreleased material so that hardcore fans can truly appreciate the band’s brilliance.

‘Rumours’ is timeless – it’s an aural delight and one album that every music enthusiast should own. It has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and was infamously recorded while tensions within the band were reaching boiling point.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood even called Rumours “the most important album we ever made.” It flows so beautifully that each track that compliments another. From the opening rustic guitar in ‘Second Hand News’, to the hopeful, upbeat tune of ‘Don’t Stop’ and the wonderfully romantic ‘Songbird’, there has simply never been another album like this.

‘Dreams’, sung by the sultry Stevie Nicks and surprisingly enough, Fleetwood Mac’s only Number 1, is her attack upon guitarist Lindsay Buckingham after their poisonous relationship and subsequent break-up, to which Buckingham responds with ‘Go Your Own Way’. The two songs are not only fantastically well written but the emotional baggage that accompanies the tracks is so raw that you can actually feel their tumultuous history being captured throughout the album.

Add to the track list ‘The Chain’, probably one of their best-known hits and also the famous Formula One theme tune, and two lesser-known tracks ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ and ‘Silver Springs’, which show off the band’s ability to harmonise that has never been replicated as well by any other band. It’s simply a perfect album from start to finish.

Disc Two includes previously unreleased live tracks, recorded at various shows during the band’s 1977 ‘Rumours’ tour, while the final disc includes ‘More from the Recording Sessions’ – songs that didn’t make it into the 2004 double-disc re-mastered edition. Notable tracks include the unrecognisably slow demo version of ‘The Chain’ and the early recording of ‘Oh, Daddy.’

This repackaged edition of ‘Rumours’ is a must-have for any true Fleetwood fan. It gives listeners a magnificent insight into Fleetwood Mac during the creation of an album that continues to amaze generation after generation, and sits on a musical pedestal that few bands can emulate.

For more info and tour dates visit Fleetwood Mac’s website here.

Concerns amidst council shake-up

The re-organisation of local government will mean that there will be just 11 instead of 26 councils and 120 fewer council seats in Northern Ireland. The first elections with the new format will take place next year.

The planning Bill is at Committee stage but it is hoped that it will be given Royal Assent by September and possibly implemented by April 2014.

There will also be judicial training and a number of pilot schemes in operation to ensure the transformation goes as smoothly as possible. However, councillors have expressed a number of concerns that their powers may be limited.

Mayor of Coleraine, Councillor Cole said: “ We want to influence policy rather than just rubber stamping. I don’t think it is more democratic or it empowers people, I think we are rubber stamping someone else’s decision”

Ms Helena O’Toole, Divisional Planning Manager for Capacity Building and Training addressed the chamber amidst concerns about the major shake-up.

Ms. O’Toole was quick to address the issues and concerns identified by the Mayor, “ You the councilors can make this plan, as long as it is within the regional parameters. You will set out a plan of the vision you see in your councils. It will reflect the locals’ aspirations and your desire.”

Councillor McLaughlin was concerned that, with the new planning policy, there would be little or no accountability for the councillors.

Councillor Alexander described the planning as a “minefield” and insisted, “ the simplification of policies is critical”.

Ms. O’Toole recognized that the process could be long and tedious but that movement behind the scenes would ensure that Councillors do not become bogged down in a web of new policy. She said “We acknowledge that this is an issue and I can assure you a lot of work is being done and many are working on this. It all boils down to documents being processed but we are working on it.”

Ms. O’Toole also pointed out that Planners will be employed in an advisory role, stating, “ You will be employing a planner to advise, they will be university qualified and will have relevant training. They will advise on legislation and attempt to identify a mechanism for training and the procedures you will want to follow.”