COUNCILLORS have agreed to consider the vesting of Herdman’s Mill and surrounding sports pitches and play areas.
The matter was discussed at a recent meeting of the council after Derg representative Derek Hussey urged members to support a motion he had brought forward.
In it he urged council to produce a report in regard to the possibility of vesting the area.
Strabane woman Margaret Loughry who scooped £27million in the Euromillions draw in 2013, bought the historic mill in July 2014 in a deal believed to have been worth over £1million.
However since then she has routinely restricted access for a number of sports clubs who used pitches at the site.
Proposing the motion Alderman Hussey said, “The former Strabane District Council made strenuous efforts from the time of the closure of the mill to gain access to the pitches.
“The pitches were there due to the philanthropic nature of the Herdman family and support from a recreation funds paid for by wages of those working in the mill.”
Alderman Hussey went on, “There is a suggestion these facilities were gifted to the community by previous owners and that is something that can possibly be investigated as well.
“There have been numerous efforts to resolve this situation and it’s coming to a head. The nature of this option is that we try one more time to negotiate with the current owner and secure long-term access to the football pitches and other areas as needed.”
Alderman Hussey said sport is being curtailed in an area where it has thrived for generations.
“This is a two pronged approach,” he explained. “We seek a resolution but prepare for the worst. In the event it cannot amicably be resolved, and subject to the report, we look into the potential of a vesting procedure.”
Concluding he added, “We are not doing this out of malice – we are simply enacting this in the best interests of facility and leisure development for residents not just of Sion, but of this council area.”
Supporting the motion was SDLP councillor, Cara Hunter who explained a number of sports club in the Sion area have to travel to other venues to use their pitches.
She highlighted that at a cost of around £90 per session, plus transport and travelling expenses this was a hefty fee for clubs to bear.
However urging caution was independent councillor Paul Gallagher who suggested ‘bully boy’ tactics were not the way forward.
“I have concerns because this is akin to council being big brother on a private citizen.
“There’s an element of us saying ‘we don’t like what you’re doing so we’re going to go in and vest it’.
“This is too much like a bully boy tactic – where would that principal end up?”
Cllr Gallagher added, “If there are facilities required in that area then we should be looking at our statutory need to provide them, not rail-roading a private individual.”
Sinn Féin councillor Kieran McGuire proposed the process be delayed for a short period of time adding,
“There is ongoing discussions with the current owner and people of Herdmans, due to historical issues during the sale, and these issues may come to fruition. After that council will know within a month or so, and it may open avenues for council and sports clubs to get access.”
Independent councillor Raymond Barr, added, “While I sympathise with the plight of the sports clubs I feel the matter could be resolved by negotiation or even an offer to buy the land back of her. Threatening to vest the land is something that may make a bad situation even worse. The person which owns the land has been difficult to deal with in the past and a threat to vest would make it worse.”
The motion was passed 27 in favour, two against, and five abstentions.