Former Mearns mill asset transfer deferred

Aberdeenshire Council will have further consultations with the community group
Aberdeenshire Council will have further consultations with the community group

A community group aiming to breathe new life into a former Mearns mill has agreed to enter into further consultations with Aberdeenshire Council.

Mill of Benholm Trust is working towards rejuvenating the complex of buildings, near Johnshaven, into an educational facility and community cafe.

The category A-listed buildings, which are owned by the council, are described by Historic Environment Scotland as “an exceptional and rare survival”.

But while the trust wants to take on ownership of the mill for £1 and offer enhanced education and workshop facilities along with a cafe through a major fundraising effort, council officers claim the figures don’t add up.

Members of Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee were told on Tuesday that council officers considered that “gaps and errors” still remained in the business plan and there was concern it did not represent best value for money to the council.

Area manager Bruce Stewart said it gave officers “no pleasure” in bringing the refusal recommendations to the table and insisted the council was “very much committed” to the asset transfer process.

But he stressed: “There are concerns with regards to costs and comparison between phase one costs and the option appraisal costs and also some issues relating to potential unforeseen costs relating to the pond.”

Aberdeenshire Provost Bill Howatson, however, proposed a deferral to provide both the council and the trust to hold further discussions.

He said: “There’s been a huge amount of work done on both sides to try and progress this and I don’t think people are necessarily against it – they are very taken by the spirit of it and the aspiration – and my view would be that it would be a deferral because more time is needed.

“There are clearly issues in  the report that need further explanation and I think that if there was a proper dialogue in which these matters could go under further scrutiny then that would be helpful.”

Councillor Colin Pike went a step further and proposed an amendment to approve the asset transfer, but was unable to find a seconder.

Somewhat reluctantly, chair of the Mill of Benholm Trust Mairi Eddie – who was not allowed to formally address the committee at this stage – agreed to further dialogue.

She told councillors that the trustees who had attended the meeting were “disappointed” they hadn’t been able to put their case forward.