Mill on the Fleet row boils over

THE row over the future of the Mill in the Fleet took a new twist this week in the wake of a tense Annual General Meeting on Tuesday night.

Backers of a plan to turn the underperforming Mill into an outdoor pursuits centre are set to go back to the Gatehouse-of-Fleet community and unveil their plans in detail.

Brian Martin, director of Adrenalin Rush, the newly-created company behind the conversion move, told the Gazette he and business partner Franca Bruno would not be walking away from their plan to completely overhaul the Mill's facilities just yet.

He said: "We will be holding a meeting in the near future to put the project to the public and they can ask as many in depth questions as they like.

"We had a meeting last night (Tuesday, after the AGM) with some of the Mill board members and community leaders and there was a lot of ill feeling about what is going on. People are telling us 'don't give up just yet, let's have a public debate.'

"We will be inviting Board members to come and put their proposals forward and we will invite the council to come as well. They have a responsibility to come when they are chucking money at a loser.

"There's been 15 years of mis-management at the Mill, and we thought because the Mill was doing so badly these people (the Board) would walk away quite gladly."

He added: "I think it is so sad for Gatehouse, the general public of Gatehouse and the business community of Gatehouse."

Mr Martin felt if Adrenalin Rush had been allowed to make their pitch to the Mill on the Fleet Board at its last meeting the current stand-off could have been avoided.

On October 9, Mr Martin, Ms Bruno and their architect were thrown out after they arrived unannounced to present their plans at a Board meeting earlier this month. Mr Martin said he had cancelled a holiday and Franca Bruno had flown back specially from Italy to attend.

Adrenalin Rush had received an invitation by letter to make their pitch, only for the invitation to be later withdrawn by phone - but they decided to attend anyway.

"All the Board should have done was to let us make our presentation to them on October 9 and say 'thanks very much, we will get back to you," an angry Mr Martin said.

Adrenalin Rush received short shrift at Tuesday night's standing-room-only AGM, with Beverly Gilbey summing up the feelings of some Board members just before the meeting closed.

Urging doubters of the Mill's recovery plan to be "more sympathetic" she said: "We that we have now got this lease (from Dumfries and Galloway Council] that we have fought tooth and nail for for five years. I just wish the Mill could be given time and be given the chance to get on with things. I think it is so sad that we have all this antagonism."

Earlier ex-provost Mark Laird wanted to pin down the Board on whether the Mill could prosper under existing management without public subsidy.

He asked: "Can we be assured that the proposals for this year (new exhibitions and more stock in the shop) are going to see the Mill turn the corner? Can you give a cast iron guarantee that there will be no need for public money at the end of this year?"

New chairperson Alex Wolff replied: "We cannot possibly give that guarantee - we are doing our best."

Provost Franca Bruno was given leave to outline Adrenalin Rush's plans for the Mill, which she said would see 58 people employed and 700,000 wages being paid into the local economy in the first year of operation.

A leaflet and architect's drawings were handed out, which showed a wine bar area and restaurant on the ground floor, 'outdoor-related outlets' and demonstration area on the middle floor and accommodation on the top floor.

"It's a valid proposal and a solid proposal," provost Bruno told the meeting.

"How can it not benefit Gatehouse and give this Mill the future it deserves? If we go belly up you would still get the Mill back," she said. "Invite us to another meeting and we are quite happy to bring our proposals to you."

The provost was not impressed by local councillor Tony Vaux's request that she send the proposals in by post.

"Any business person knows that you do not send sensitive information through the post. We are quite happy to come and meet with you."

Councillor Vaux said: "The Board can't be blamed for a lack of consultation when we have a community council member on the Board.

"The last thing we want is to polarise the debate - Gatehouse is far too small a place for that and I really wish people would get behind what the Mill is trying to do.

In answer to a question about the loss of public funding councillor Vaux added: "The Board seems very confident that they can overcome that problem."

But provost Bruno was angry at the way her team had been treated when they turned up to present detailed proposals to the Board on October 9 - and insisted the Board had the power to hand over the lease of the Mill to Adrenalin Rush.

She said:"We did decide to come back and make a second presentation and we were only five minutes in the door when we were told 'We do not want your presentation, do you mind?' "

But councillor Vaux hit back: "You were told by the Board that we did not want you back. You refused to take that from the Board and came anyway."

Earlier board member Ken Smyth outline the recovery plan which he was "confident" would improve the Mill's fortunes.