Vast potential but region’s historic mills risk ruin

The fire at Prospect Mills in Bradford
The fire at Prospect Mills in Bradford
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Some of Yorkshire’s most precious heritage features are vulnerable to being lost forever unless developers grasp their lucrative potential, heritage campaigners have warned.

Fresh fears have been raised over the future of the historic mills of Yorkshire’s proud industrial past after fire ripped through yet another derelict mill in West Yorkshire at the weekend - a blaze that leaves the Grade II listed Prospect Mills in Thornton, Bradford lying in ruins and in the process of being demolished.

Firefighters put out the blaze at a mill in Grange Road, Batley, last January

Firefighters put out the blaze at a mill in Grange Road, Batley, last January

The building had stood on the site since 1849 and for some time was run by worsted cloth manufacturers Joshua Craven & Son. It employed 240 people when the region enjoyed being at the centre of the once booming textile industry.

Having lain vacant since the 1990s, the building was engulfed in flames on Saturday. It took two hours for around 80 firefighters to bring the fire under control.

Residents were evacuated from adjoining Prospect Street where the actions of firefighters saved the fire from spreading to a row of houses.

Fire investigation officer Richard Gomersall praised crews for working “tirelessly” under extreme heat.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue confirmed that one firefighter was taken to hospital suffering from mild heat stress and that the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Firefighters were still working at the scene yesterday alongside the demolition team.

Alan Hall, chairman of Bradford Civic Society, said he was sad that the building, which had heritage features that included Venetian-style window frames, had been lost.

“There was talk of it becoming flats but it came to nothing,” Mr Hall said. “That’s what we, as a society, want to encourage. Instead of empty mill buildings, many should be converted into residential properties or other things. They do appear to be vulnerable and they are precious.

“In the 1980s, I don’t think people realised what they had got. The textile trade was fading but the buildings that housed it were often absolutely brilliant things.”

Prospect Mills is at least the fourth major mill building to be gutted by fire in West Yorkshire this year.

Ian Bitcon, area manager for fire safety at the region’s fire service, said: “Each time we have a major mill fire it is a sad loss to the rich heritage of the industrial north.”

Heritage body Historic England recently published a report which offers a best practice guide for future redevelopments of mill buildings in West Yorkshire, where there are more than 1,350 are either underused or vacant.

The report reflects on how many successful mill conversions have been realised - such as Salts Mill in Saltaire and Dean Clough in Halifax - in a bid to encourage various parties, including local authorities and developers, to bring underused or vacant mills back to life.

Trevor Mitchell, Historic England’s planning director for Yorkshire, said vacant mills are more vulnerable than other smaller buildings because of their size, cost to maintain and difficulty to keep secure, but that many, particularly those that have not stood empty for decades, offer incredible potential.

Mr Mitchell said: “If you put all underused mills in Yorkshire back in use you would create the space for 150,000 jobs or 27,000 new homes.

“There will be some examples where values (to convert) will never work but there are many more where we feel there is so much potential.”

Mr Mitchell said he held a meeting with Bradford Council officials yesterday and that the local authority had agreed to produce its own report, with assistance from Historic England, looking at opportunities across the district for bringing suitable mill buildings back into use.

MONTHS OF DESTRUCTION

Mill fires are a continuing problem across large parts of the county, as other recent examples highlight.

Bradford’s Drummond Mills and Batley’s Greenhill Mills were both ravaged by fires in January, and a mill on Britannia Mills Trading Estate in Huddersfield was wrecked in a blaze in March.

Ian Bitcon, area manager for fire safety at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “For unoccupied mills we urge all owners to ensure wherever possible that these buildings are secured to prevent the possibility of deliberate fires and with occupied buildings take care to reduce the risk of accidental fires as far as is practicable.”