Disused mills could create thousands of homes and jobs

Shaw Lodge Mills, Halifax
Shaw Lodge Mills, Halifax

Redundant and underused mill sites which symbolise the north’s industrial heritage could create thousands of homes and jobs if interventions were taken for regeneration, Historic England has said.

Across Yorkshire, the public body has found, there are an estimated 1,350 redundant mill buildings with the capacity to deliver up to 27,000 homes and 150,000 jobs.

Rawson's Mill, Halifax

Rawson's Mill, Halifax

With intervention they could be brought back into public use, it has argued, providing a solution for local authorities struggling to find sites for development and housing need.

Now a feasibility study, commissioned by West Yorkshire Combined Authority and looking at a sample of 10 historic sites to assess their potential, has found that with intervention and initial investment of around £7.5m, these 10 sites – which include Rawson Mills and Shaw Cross Mills in Halifax – alone could create 1,223 homes or 4,800 new jobs.

“The potential is huge, at a time when local authorities are struggling to find land for homes, for economic growth,” said Deborah Wall, historic places principal advisor for Historic England.

“Mills can provide a ready made solution. They really are what defines our region. It’s their character and quirkiness that interests people. This is about how we pool our resources and try and get Yorkshire’s mills back into operation.”

A report today to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Land and Assets Panel provides an update on an ongoing feasibility study by commercial real estate agency Cushman and Wakefield and Historic England, commissioned at the end of 2016.

Aiming to provide examples of the levels of work and investment that would be needed, it looked initially at the sample of these 10 sites.

Each of the five authorities in the region put forward two mills to be explored across Bradford, Calderdale, Wakefield, Leeds and Kirklees, examining what could be created.

Eight of the 10 are in private ownership and today’s report explains that any work required would include brokerage with owners, to undertake further feasibility work, seek access to loans and grants that may be available and planning strategies.

Coun Tim Swift, panel chair and leader of Calderdale Council said: “Today’s update report on the progress of these sample studies shows the potential role that these mill buildings, which are an important part of West Yorkshire proud industrial heritage, could play in the future provision of new employment opportunities and homes.“However the report also indicates that significant work and funding would be required to achieve this, more details of which will be contained in Cushman and Wakefield’s finalised report due later this year.”

While the study is ongoing, Historic England says it shows there is real potential here.

“This has proved there are mills sitting there that, with a little nudge, could get into use and could provide housing,” said Miss Wall. “The evidence is that mills are being converted, there’s no question over appetite. Even without intervention, stuff is happening. But some may need a bit of help to get back into use.

“People don’t always notice these buildings day to day, they walk past and take them for granted. It’s only when there’s a fire, or when they’re lost, that communities realise how much they mean. What a part of the community they are, a part of its stories and history.

“They really do symbolise the north’s industrial heritage. Without them, we do lose our identity.”