Mill asset transfer facing refusal

The asset transfer bid for the mill is facing refusal
The asset transfer bid for the mill is facing refusal

A community group aiming to bring new life to a former Mearns mill is on the brink of having its £1 asset transfer bid for the property rejected.

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 are described by Historic Environment Scotland as “an exceptional and rare survival” and are currently owned by Aberdeenshire Council.

Just a few weeks ago the council’s Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee awarded £5,000 to the group for legal advice on land ownership.

Councillors unanimously approved the application, with Councillor George Carr saying there was “superb community backing” for the “ambitious project” and that he saw this financial support as a “catalyst” towards it achieving the community asset transfer.

But while the group wants to take on ownership of the mill and offer enhanced education and workshop facilities along with a cafe, council officers claim the figures don’t add up.

In a joint report from infrastructure service and business services, members of the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee will be told next week that despite considerable assistance given by officers it is considered that “gaps and errors” still remain in the business plan, which make it difficult to justify a positive recommendation for asset transfer.

The detailed report states: “There have continually been mistakes in the presentation of financial information between cashflows, estimates and the main business plan narrative.

“This has led to confusion in interpreting financial information, which has undermined council officer’s confidence in the business plan.”

Officers say that while the trust has been advised of these errors and corrections have been made, there continue to be discrepancies.

In one example, the costs for the phase 1 works are quoted at £225,570 in one section of the business plan and at £216,400 in another.

Councillors will be told that due to uncertainty about whether the trust’s plans are sustainable, particularly with regards to its business plan, it was initially encouraged to apply for a lease of the property but declined the option.

Currently, the authority’s landscape services maintain Mill of Benholm with this year’s £34,500 budget allocation covering all utility costs, building maintenance, SEPA testing, grass cutting and other works.

If the mill was sold on the open market, the council could potentially secure £100,000 in addition to annual cost savings.