Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Moyle Council's Drop-Leaf Table 2

[click images to enlarge]

The segment which rotated and slid from its rather
 insecure mounting has been put back in place

Six screws have replaced the two earlier fixings 
indicated by the two holes in the bracket

The other round tables have been modified in a similar manner. Moyle Council has yet to explain why the original designs put out to tender were not complied with. For example, the round table was to be made from a single piece of basalt supported by a marine quality circular steel plate. The overhang was about 200 mm and the table top was secured to this plate by marine quality steel tenons arranged in a circle.

Added March 1

This week's Ballymoney and Moyle Times reports that a youngish man was taken to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine when a quadrant of the stone table broke away from its mountings; the man apparently and luckily didn't sustain serious injuries.

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These are scans of the drawings that were sent out during the tender process. Even a casual examination will show major changes with the finished picnic table. An independent investigation would need to examine the project step-by-step from beginning to end to see what lessons can be learned and what penalties/sanctions, if any, should be applied.

Added March 8

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board seems to be unaware of its signature projects' problems.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Rathlin's Lifeline Ferry Grounded

Two items of bad new news for islanders and other ferry users were published on the Rathlin Community website today; the first involved a fare increase announced by DRD, the Department for Regional Development, and the second the enforced absence of the Canna, the lifeline passenger and vehicle ferry as of to-morrow, Wednesday, February 29. I understand that islanders only had a few days notice to stock-up on essential supplies.

Notice from Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd about the MV Canna
By webmaster - Posted on 28 February 2012

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Below is a message from Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd regarding the MV Canna:
"Lloyd's Register of MV Canna, issued last year for five years, has been successfully appealed by CMAL [Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd] and is now due to expire on 29/02/2012. The vessel will go out of service thereafter for engine overhaul. Finding a replacement vessel is proving difficult - the best availabale at this moment is a vessel from 6th March 2012. Residents should, threfore, be aware that there may be disruption to Ro-Ro services during early March and essential supplies scheduled for delivery - either to or from Rathlin - during this period should be brought forward where possible. RIFL regrets any inconvenience that may occur during this time and are doing their utmost to avoid any disruption. Passenger travel is not affected. For more information call ..

A CMAL spokesman about this time last year said, "CMAL Charter this vessel to RIFL on a Bareboat basis i.e. during the Charter period the vessel shall be in the full possession and at the absolute disposal for all purposes of the charterers and under their complete control in every respect. .. RIFL maintain the MV CANNA to Class and Flag State requirements and CMAL inspects the vessel twice a year to ensure this is the case. The main engines were replaced comparatively recently (when compared against the age of the ship) and we would estimate that they would remain serviceable until 2020 provided they are maintained and overhauled in accordance with manufacturers, class and flag state requirements. Other work would have to carried out on the rest of the vessel however."

I understand that RIFL and DRD were told that Calmac/Rathlin Ferries Ltd had scheduled a re-engining of the Canna's Scania engines - not just a major overhaul - during the annual overhaul in the late summer of 2010.

The RIFL message, as yet, has not appeared on the RIFL and DRD websites. Why aren't users other than the islanders also being informed about the absence of the passenger and vehicle ferry?

Presumably the DRD minister, Danny Kennedy, will have some questions to put to RIFL, CMAL and Lloyd's Register - and to his own officials. Did DRD officials act on the information supplied by Calmac/Rathlin Ferries? Why is the Canna being apparently taken out of service at such short notice, notice so short that a relief vessel could not be brought into service? Why did CMAL appeal the Lloyd's Register decision to extend the operation of the Canna without a major engine overhaul? How long has the DRD known about this withdrawal from service? As this is not an emergency why has a lifeline ferry been taken out of service at short notice before a relief vessel is on station? What actions did the responsible DRD official take to prevent such a scenario developing to the point that a lifeline service is out of action?

The Minister might also like to ask RIFL why the annual accounts which were due to be submitted to Companies House by December 31, 2011, have, apparently, not yet been sent.

A little bit of history.

Added February 29

Here is part of a curious response I received from the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland [ferry report]:

".. our colleagues in the Transport team who investigated with DRD and the Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd, as well as discussing the issue with the Rathlin Community Development Association.  They’ve updated me as follows:

Although the MV Cana (the vehicle ferry operating between Ballycastle and Rathlin) is shortly to be taken out of service for routine maintenance it will be replaced with a similar vessel so that vehicles will be able to be transported to and from the island.  No break in service is expected and for this reason no information has needed to be provided to passengers regarding the change.

We will continue to monitor this situation to ensure there is no interruption to service."

The reply is curious in the sense that it's not an example of routine maintenance and the operator has already apologised for the break in service. Has Lloyd's Register given a class certificate extension beyond today and until a relief vessel is on station? No doubt the Minister at some point will be able to provide some clarification as well as answers to the questions posed on this blog and other questions that will be asked by elected representatives.

Added March 1

Assembly Questions

Added March 3

MV Coll has arrived and will take the place of the MV Canna; the latter's class certificate was suspended and, perhaps, later extended until its engines have the required overhaul.

Added March 8

Here's a transcript of some relevant CMAL-RIFL correspondence from 2008.

Added March 12

[click to enlarge]

Added March 19

Rathlin Island and Yellow Man - Google Style

The Rathlin Community website provided by the Rathlin Development and Community Association (RDCA) contains a December 2011 link to the arrival of Google street map with its little yellow man for the island. Enjoy the virtual tour!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

DOE Minister Attwood and the Giants Causeway World Heritage Site

"Can the future of planning in general and planning for the World Heritage site and its environs in particular be entrusted to cabals of politicians, planners and developers? Planning outcomes would appear to indicate that the current system is not to the benefit of all." ... NALIL: Giants Causeway Visitor Centre Controversy 2007+

"I particularly interrogated the issues around World Heritage status, the role of the World Heritage Centre (WHC)/UNESCO and the approach that may be taken by the WHC. I have acted with a high vigilance and challenging approach." .. Alex Attwood, DOE Press Release, 21 February 2012

"[The Minister] said he was prepared to fly to France to meet Unesco officials or host them in Northern Ireland if they wanted to raise any concerns about the move." .. Breaking News dot ie, 21 February 2012

Have DOE officials not advised the Minister that UNESCO interacts with Westminster not Stormont vis-a-vis the protection of UK World Heritage sites and their environs?

A relatively recent online document is from the Department of Culture Media and Sport's Peter Marsden to a UNESCO official: "State of  Conservation of  Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast". It's dated 1 February 2010 and it contains the following paragraphs:

"In relation to development proposals at  the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage property,  a planning application was submitted to the Department of Environment Northern Ireland in December [2009] for a tourism development in the buffer zone of the property and is currently under consideration by the Department. The  proposed development  includes a golf resort including 18-hole championship golf course,  clubhouse, golf academy and a 120  bedroom hotel.  We are currently seeking the views of our professional advisers on the proposals and any potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The application will be  considered within the context of development plans and planning policies including those relating to the World Heritage Site and its setting  and we will keep the World Heritage Centre informed of progress. ..

The UK wishes to reassure the World Heritage Committee that the State Party  and other key stakeholders with an interest in the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast  will continue to work closely to ensure the continued protection of the  Outstanding Universal Value of this unique and important World Heritage property and its setting." [my emphasis]

Perhaps the DOE Minister can clarify whether or not DCMS found the most recent planning application - which includes an additional 75 villas - and the Minister's decision acceptable. Paul Blaker has replaced Peter Marsden and there's an NIEA contact listed.

The following email from October 2007 indicates that UNESCO will not be too happy with DCMS if UNESCO has not been consulted on all matters pertaining to the Bushmills Dunes project that impact on the status of the Giant's Causeway World Heritage site:

 "The record with the mission of 2003 and the subsequent Committee decisions (2003 and 2005) is quite clear.
Please note that I could not write directly to Northern Ireland and that I do not see the need to do so, as the decisions are obvious.
I wondered however why we had not been informed on any outcome of the design competition or other development at the site."

Giant's Causeway Statement of Outstanding Universal Value is set in the context of the DCMS draft statement.

Is the Minister's decision not in clear breach of these Planning Service policies in the draft Northern Area Plan 2016?

Policy COU 12 The Distinctive Landscape Setting of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site.
No development within the Distinctive Landscape Setting outside of settlement development limits will be approved except:
1. exceptionally modest scale facilities, without landscape detriment, which are necessary to meet the direct needs of visitors to the World Heritage Site;
2. extensions to dwellings that are appropriate in scale and design and represent not more than 20% of the cubic content of existing dwellings;
3. replacements of existing occupied dwellings with not more than a 20% increase in the cubic content.
These allowances will be permitted once only.

Policy COU 14 The Supportive Landscape Setting of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site
Development proposals outside of settlement development limits that comprise modest scale, non-residential tourist facilities that are essential for serving the requirements of visitors to the World Heritage Site only, will exceptionally be permitted in the Supportive Landscape Setting to the World Heritage Site.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

DOE Minister Attwood Stung by a Bee?

Possible conflict exists between officials in the Minister's Department of the Environment and those acting for agents of the Bushmills Dunes developer over the existence of the very rare Colletes floralis* mining bee in the vicinity of Bushfoot Strand:

DOE's Northern Ireland Environmental Agency: "Those at Bushfoot Strand and White
Park Bay, however, consist of only three small aggregations and may therefore be
vulnerable to minor disturbances and/or management changes."

RPS: "Previous surveys and reports have been submitted to the Planning Service and the NIEA that established that the site does not have any evidence of 'Colette' bees and it is not necessary to resubmit these reports."

Perhaps the Minister could clarify the matter. He could also outline his own NIEA's recommendations for or against the project. An objection from the Belfast Naturalist's Field Club contains the understanding that NIEA recommended refusal.

What impact will the construction and other works have on those Whooper swans who use this area as a landing and feeding area after their long flight from Iceland?

Diet: Aquatic vegetation, but they are increasingly being recorded grazing on grass in pasture and spilt grain, as well as potatoes from cultivated land.

Added February 24

According to a 'sting in the tail' article by Linda Stewart in today's Belfast Telegraph a DOE spokesman said, "In 2011 RPS undertook a further survey and found no evidence of the bee at this location." This survey may be accurate but it can't be considered independent.

Added February 25

Linda Stewart has a follow-up two page article in the Belfast Telegraph in which the NIEA is slammed as a toothless body by green campaigners. The Minister finds himself in the unenviable position of trying to ride two horses simultaneously, planning service and the environment agency. The Telegraph carries a DOE claim that the resort proposal received 26 letters of objection and 4 of support; perhaps the Planning Service will add the missing ones to the 20 letters of objection and 1 of support that it has published online.

David McNeill has pointed out that the Botanical Society of the British Isles should have been consulted by the Planning Service in light of the presence of legally protected rare native plants; David is the society's recorder for County Antrim.

DOE Minister Attwood and the Giants Causeway World Heritage Site

Current status
Nest aggregations were found at four sites on the north coast at Ballymaclary, Portstewart, White Park Bay and Bushfoot during a dedicated survey in 2003. These were the first Northern Ireland records since 1933, when it was found at Portballintrae. The species was also confirmed present at the Umbra in 2004. The largest populations found in 2003 were at Ballymaclary and Portstewart. None were seen at Portballintrae where there is no longer any suitable habitat.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Moyle Council's Drop-Leaf Table

These photos pose serious questions about the design and assembly of these stone tables and seats as well as the supervision of the project. Also were the materials and construction techniques used of the same or better quality than the materials and techniques specified?

Monday, 13 February 2012

McVicker of Ballynaris and Ballylough 2

Leslie and her husband visited their ancestral roots in June 2011 and hope to return again soon. I've just received this email:

"While researching family genealogy, I came across a letter on your blog from a Leslie Burke, looking for info on her McVicker Family.  Her great-grandparents, Sarah McVicker and Joseph McLean, are also the great-grandparents of my mother-in-law. I can add info...

The only son that Leslie has no info on is William McVicker who ended up in Liverpool NSW, Australia.

William John McVicker was born in Ballyhunsley abt 1858. He married Mary SHIRLEY on 10th Feb 1882 in Ireland. Mary was born in Ballyrobin abt 1860. They immigrated to Australia and have a son James born in NSW in 1885, a son William John McVicker born in 1887, son Samuel in 1892, son Harold George born 1895, and daughter Mabel Elsie born in 1899.

The parents of William John were Hugh McVicker and Jane (Moore). Mary's parents were James SHIRLEY and Mary (?).

I got this info from, posted by another descendent looking for more info on the clan.  If Leslie needs any more info on the family after their arrival in the US, I'd be happy to share what I can and can be reached at this email address.  Please forward it.  Thank you."

BBC NI, House of the Year 2012 and Ballycastle

BBC NI - House of the Year 2012 - Ballycastle