Belfast Telegraph

Owner 'realistic' on future planning for Co Down's historic Gilford Mill

By Margaret Canning

The company behind the redevelopment of Gilford Mill in Co Down has said it has taken one year alone to make its buildings safe, and remove vast amounts of hogweed.

Karl Group, best known for building the Obel Tower in Belfast, snapped up the historic mill last year after it hit the market for £120,000.

But definite plans have not yet been made for its future, though Aran Blackbourne, managing director of Karl, said the company had felt the urge to take it on.

"We just saw it on the market and saw it as an opportunity to do what we do, which is create places which enhance people's lives," he said.

The 19th century site has been the subject of numerous failed plans for regeneration since flax spinning ended in the 1980s.

Gilford Mill was one of the largest linen mills in Ireland, employing more than 2,000 people in the 1880s.

Karl Group has held an information evening for residents of the area to have their say on the building's future.

"We were asking people what we can do with the site to enhance people's lives, because whatever we put in it, it needs to have the things that people want," Mr Blackbourne said.

"And whatever we do with it, there has to be some kind of return for us," he added.

He said he wanted to be as open-minded as possible.

"If we say it will have certain things, then people will jump on that. But I would be surprised if there wasn't some kind of mixed uses going into it," he said.

"We will be thinking: what can be done that will be an investment that will bring people to Gilford?"

And Mr Blackbourne said the company would be more modest in its approach to the mill.

"We are going to be realistic. In the past it was all big ideas, and big money, big everything," he explained. "People were going to come in and change the world, but with our plans it will be about organic growth.

"There has been a huge amount of work going on already to get where we are today."

Karl Group built the Obel Tower but lost control of the asset after part of the business went into administration.

Its plans for Gilford Mill are part of a continued comeback for the company. It was part of a consortium that failed to win preferred bidder status for Queen's Parade in Bangor.

Mr Blackbourne said: "I am disappointed our idea did not get through as we spent six weeks on nothing but Queen's Parade."

Instead, North Down and Ards Borough Council and the Department for Communities has appointed consortium Angelvale, with parties including investment firm Cubic3, hospitality group Beannchor, building firm McLaughlin & Harvey and social housing association Clanmil.

Karl Group is also working on the revamp of Armagh House in Belfast city centre. The former linen warehouse is to be turned into an office and retail complex.

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