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£1.2m plan to turn Northern Ireland windmill into tourist asset

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Ballycopeland Windmill, built to process grain in Millisle, Co Down, at the end of the 19th century, is Northern Ireland’s only original working windmill

Ballycopeland Windmill, built to process grain in Millisle, Co Down, at the end of the 19th century, is Northern Ireland’s only original working windmill

Ballycopeland Windmill, built to process grain in Millisle, Co Down, at the end of the 19th century, is Northern Ireland’s only original working windmill

Northern Ireland's only original working windmill has been granted a £1.2m regeneration.

Ballycopeland Windmill in Millisle in Co Down will receive a new visitor centre/coffee shop, a new access road, car park and barn, as well as seeing existing cottages restored.

The Rural Tourism Scheme at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) will fund the scheme, which received approval from Ards North Down Borough Council earlier this week at its planning committee meeting.

Ballycopeland is the only remaining local windmill with its original mechanism still existing.

It is also unique as the last remaining windmill in the world with the patented Hooper Roller Reefing gear, the system for operating the blinds on the sails on calmer days.

The plastered and white-washed tapering tower is a landmark in the area and the last remaining mill out of around 100 which previously existed in Co Down.

It was constructed between the 1780s and 1790s, appearing on the first Ordnance Survey maps of the area in 1830s, and processed grains until the First World War. It has been a public asset since 1937.

Although disused for many decades, the old windmill was restored to working order again in the 1970s.

The site is currently managed by the Historic Environment Division (HED) at the Department for Communities.

It is not a listed building, but the windmill structure is categorised as a regionally important industrial heritage site.

A small visitor centre is currently located inside the miller's house, where the kiln and drying floor all still remain in their original positions at the site.

No objections to the plan were forwarded by any of the relevant official bodies, including DFI Roads and HED, and the likely impact of the proposal on biodiversity was deemed by council officers to be low.

The council committee learned there was one letter of objection from a local resident who referred to the plan as "complete contradiction to the established character of the area", and complained people in the new coffee shop could look into residents' bedrooms.

The council officer said local residents "shouldn't suffer any significant impact from the coffee shop".

DUP councillor for Ards Peninsula Eddie Thompson proposed the council accept the regeneration. He said: "This will be a great tourist asset when it gets running. It's really exciting to see this plan.

There is no other windmill in the world like the one we have in Millisle, and I am sure we will reap the benefits when we develop this site."

Alliance councillor Deborah Girvan, who seconded the proposal, commended councillor Thompson's endorsement of the project and suggested to the council he should be permitted to unveil the new centre.

The committee unanimously agreed to the proposal, subject to the planning department's conditions, and it is expected to receive full ratification at the next full Ards North Down council meeting.

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