OWNERS of the beleaguered Smyth’s Mill in Strabane have warned that it could take up to a decade to complete any redevelopment of the site.
The mill, which was the scene of a fire recently, has lain derelict for a number of years and has recently become more and more of a hot spot for antisocial behaviour.
Riverside Building Group, who purchased the complex some 11 years ago, condemned Sunday’s fire attack, which a spokesperson for Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service confirmed had been started deliberately.
However Riverside have also emphasised this week that they remain open to any alternative arrangement which might expedite the betterment of the substantial town centre site.
“The responsibility for the fire and damage caused to the Smyth’s Mill on Sunday night lies firstly, fully and squarely on the shoulders of those who managed to break in to the premises and set them alight,” project director for Riverside, Niall McAteer said.
“The arson attack follows a familiar pattern for those who believe they can damage and torch privately or publicly owned buildings such as schools, churches, halls or vacant business premises.”
He continued, “We can confirm that the building was protected with a metal door but despite best efforts the intruders managed to cut through. We will review the security arrangements to see if further fortifications can be made. In the meantime, on behalf of the owners, I appeal to everyone to stay away from the building.”
Purchased, Mr McAteer explained, with a view to help regenerate the town centre, the old mill has since been the focus of various retail, commercial and housing development proposals.
“These schemes required the use of the derelict, publicly owned Score site and parts of the publicly owned car park at the basin. We have shared these with various government bodies and successive Executive ministers and sought statutory sector support for a private/public partnership to co-develop the area. Our efforts to date have been without success.
“Derry City and Strabane District Council officials are fully aware of our best intentions and we have had a number of meetings and discussions to assist the council with its own plans to redevelop the Canal Basin area under a city deal plan.
“However, I will be honest with the Strabane people by saying that progress has been slow, and any council-led development of the site could take another seven to ten years to complete.
“We continue to stand ready to consider alternative commercial uses and proposals for the Smyth’s Mill. However, we are unable to do this on our own and we call on the all local public representatives to lobby the council and Stormont departments to bring forward an urgent and properly funded action plan for the town centre. The fire at the Primark building in the centre of Belfast last August brought forward a £6 million-pound package of assistance. However, the beleaguered town centre traders in Strabane are unlikely to be holding their breath waiting on some commensurate intervention for this part of the north west – fire or no fire.”