And the building has a rich history in Johnstone.

But now there are plans to floor the fire-ravaged Paton’s Mill – and replace the former industrial hub with homes.

Johnstone’s six-storey mill, built in 1782, is believed to be the world’s oldest surviving machine factory – but has been lying derelict since 2003.

The factory was gutted in 2010 after firebugs torched part of the sprawling building complex known as the Old End Mill.

Now the ambitious proposals could see the part of the factory flattened and converted into 79 new homes and retail units.

George Kennedy, secretary of Johnstone Community Council, praised the plans as a “fantastic opportunity” to create an attractive entrance to Johnstone town centre.

He told The Gazette: “The remaining mill is an absolute eyesore and has been completely destroyed by neglect and decay.

“The site is insecure and open to youths who have been known to hang around there in the past.

“This is dangerous and if young kids get onto the site they could be seriously injured.

“Since the fire, the site has been left derelect and, from what I see, there is nothing left of it to save.” Planning permission, granted in June 2004, to develop the High Street building into flats and office space lapsed after locals battled to save the mill.

A war of words also broke between the owner of the Paton’s Mill and Renfrewshire Council amid claims the local authority failed to let the owner’s company develop the historic site in 2010.

Managing director of Belfast-based GWM Developments John Walsh was left seething after council bosses blocked plans because of “a lack of adequate security”.

But another planning application, submitted by developers Stallan-Brand in March this year, revealed plans to create 79 houses, commercial floorspace, access roads, car parking and footpaths.

Mr Kennedy, who lives in the town’s Bevan Grove, said he believes the new development could create a safer and tidier environment.

He continued: “Perhaps if we have new houses built and somewhere for new shops and traffic to go we can make a real difference.

“The entrances into Johnstone are a disgrace and paint a very poor picture of the town. They are untidy and uncared for.

“I believe Johnstone is on the up and really progressing but we still need to make the entrance more attractive.

“Putting more shops in will also help to keep the area alive and deter youths from hanging around the area.” Paton’s Mill is the earliest surviving cotton mill in Scotland and one of the earliest in Britain.

Once treasured by the community, the A-listed building has fallen into a state of disrepair and become a target for vandalism and theft.

One local resident said the plans would be a positive move – as long as the facade of the building is kept.

She said: “The mill was devastated by the fire and it is at a dangerous stage at the moment.

“So long as some of the history is kept and the developers handle this transformation sensitively I think it could be a good thing for Johnstone.” A Renfrewshire Council spokesman said: “An application for Listed Building Consent has been received for the partial demolition and redevelopment of the Paton’s Mill site. Compared to previous applications, circumstances have obviously changed considerably following the extensive fire damage which took place several years ago.

“Before and since the fire, the council has been working closely with the owners of the site and with organisations, such as The Prince’s Regeneration Trust, to develop a viable scheme which would reflect the heritage and listed building status of Paton’s Mill.

“The current proposal seeks consent to retain what can realistically be saved of the original architectural framework while enabling commercial redevelopment and clearing up what is a derelict site.

“If permission was granted, the developer would then come forward with a detailed masterplan.” Claire Donaldson, director of 4th Consulting Limited, which deals with Stallan-Brand, said: “While still in the very early stages of the process, discussions with Historic Scotland and Renfrewshire Council are ongoing and continue to be very positive.

“With the details of the plans yet to be determined, we will continue to work with them to achieve the best for the site and the local area through future applications.”