Fresh hope for future of Mearns mill

Council offiicials are recommending approval of the asset transfer
Council offiicials are recommending approval of the asset transfer

A community group aiming to breathe new life into a former Mearns mill is finally on the brink of taking formal control of the property.

For several years, Mill of Benholm Enterprise has been working towards rejuvenating the complex of buildings near Johnshaven into an educational facility and community cafe.

The category A-listed buildings owned by Aberdeenshire Council are described by Historic Environment Scotland as “an exceptional and rare survival”.

But while the group 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 recently claimed the figures didn’t add up.

Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee deferred a decision in July after council officers considered that “gaps and errors” still remained in the business plan and there were serious concerns it did not represent best value for money to the council.

At the time, chair of the Mill of Benholm Enterprise Mairi Eddie told councillors: “If there is a real desire to work with us on this and actually listen to the points we’ve put across to you which you have very kindly listened to, I think we probably would agree to a deferral as long as that means we have a meaningful dialogue because that hasn’t always been the case.”

Following those discussions, council officers are now recommending approval of the asset transfer application providing project funding commitments are identified.

In a report going before next Tuesday’s meeting of the area committee, acting area manager Bruce Stewart says a response provided by Mill of Benholm Enterprise and a subsequent meeting on August 7 have given council officers a “much clearer understanding” of the group’s business plan and explained most outstanding issues.

He will tell councillors: “Council officers are supportive of the asset transfer request and the aims to open and renovate an important local asset for everyone living in the area, regardless of age and circumstances.”

But he caveats that by adding that officers require reassurances that grant funding can be secured before transferring this asset.

Mr Stewart explains: “Officers can therefore only recommend approval of the asset transfer request if transfer is subject to securing funding commitments for 100% grant funding for Phase 1 of the business plan.

“It is accepted that it is very difficult to determine all future costs accurately and therefore the funding condition does not include works and costs for Phase 2.”