Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Lotto winner set for mill transformation

Herdman's Mill has been bought by lottery winner Margaret Loughrey who hopes to turn it into a tourism destination
Herdman's Mill has been bought by lottery winner Margaret Loughrey who hopes to turn it into a tourism destination

A Strabane lottery winner is to help breathe life into one of Northern Ireland's most historic buildings after buying Herdman's Mill in Co Tyrone.

Margaret Loughrey scooped £27m on the Euromillions lottery in December 2013, the biggest ever jackpot won in Northern Ireland.

She has snapped up the massive 62-acre complex on the banks of the River Mourne and plans to turn it into a leisure and tourism destination, with a museum highlighting the north west's industrial heritage and sports and community facilities for local people.

Herdman's Mill was founded in 1835 and is a complex of buildings, the largest of which was the five-storey main mill built in 1853 by William Lynn of Lanyon Lynn and Lanyon, Belfast.

After more than two centuries, the Herdman family lost control of its world-famous flax mill when Ulster Bank issued them with a winding up order in July 2011 after their companies took massive hits due to the decline of the property market.

Just a month later the sprawling site was badly damaged by fire and the site has changed hands a number of times since.

The most recent owners were Connective Energy Holdings Ltd, which acquired the site last year for a figure believed to be in the region of £1.3m, with plans to build a small energy park including an anaerobic digestion system and electricity turbines.

However, those plans have now been scrubbed.

Strabane-based Ronan McAnenny was the estate agent who helped broker the deal and while he would not be drawn on the figure, said that the sale was great news for the whole area.

"Margaret has big plans for this place, people will be delighted that the mill is in local ownership and while plans are at a very early stage, this facility should help regenerate Sion Mills and the wider area around it, which has been in need of investment for a long time." he said.

"There are plans to turn part of the site into something similar to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra."

The complex includes mixed use development lands, residences, historic factory buildings – part listed and restored – sports fields, a hydro-electricity plant and an island on the River Mourne.

Previously secured planning permissions included more than 100 houses, playing fields and a pavilion, commercial/retail and community use, business space, a hotel, and hydro-electricity turbines.

The brothers James, John and George Herdman from Belfast chose Sion Mills to base themselves because of easy access to workers, the enormous waterpower provided by the Mourne and because the north west was a prolific flax-growing area.

They built a model village, a school, churches, recreational and sporting facilities, but many of the historic buildings had fallen into a poor state of repair in recent years.

Margaret Loughrey has jetted off for a holiday in the wake of the contracts being signed and was not available for comment.

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