There have been some exceptional mill conversions in Yorkshire, including the undisputed champion – Salts Mill in Saltaire. The late Jonathan Silver ignored the naysayers who thought he had lost the plot when in 1987 he began turning the gargantuan redundant building into a thriving going concern featuring retail, commercial premises, restaurants and the 1853 Gallery featuring David Hockney’s work.
At the last count there were 917 mills in Yorkshire with 237 of them vacant or underused. Historic England is keen that these proud reminders of our industrial heritage are re-purposed lest they slip into dereliction and are demolished, like many others before them.
While it costs at least 35 per cent more to convert a mill than it does to construct new-build homes, if you do it properly, the bonus is that it is usually far easier to get planning permission to convert a mill into homes than it is to get the go-ahead to build on greenfield land.
That is just one of the reasons why Manchester-based MMR Construction has been targeting mills in God’s Own County. The company, which has a Homes England award and three LABC building excellence awards, is headed by the firm’s managing director Joseph Grunfeld, who works for Canadian investors keen to grow a build-to-rent portfolio in Britain.
MMR began by using permitted development to turn office blocks into rental apartments before Joseph persuaded the investors to change tack.
The first mill projects were in central Bradford with another in Tingley.
“I looked at the mistakes other developers made by creating tiny flats with no lobbies, places that became drug dens with a high turnover of tenants and I knew what not to do. These conversions aren’t easy if you do them properly but they are something you can get really passionate about,” says Joseph. Empire House is now MMR’s jewel in the crown in Bradford and has a waiting list of would-be tenants.
The company’s latest and far more ambitious venture is Greenholme Mills. It dates to 1790 and was once one of the UK’s largest water-powered textile mills. This prime site sits by the River Wharfe on the edge of Burley-in-Wharfedale, near Ilkley, and is a short walk from the village via an underpass and a few minutes
from the bypass leading to Ilkley and onto the Dales or down to Leeds.
MMR bought the property four years ago with a plan to turn it into homes while retaining as many original features as possible. Another building to the north of the site will house workshop spaces for let and an on-site café with a terrace overlooking the river, open to the public.
MMR has already spent over £20 million on the scheme, designed by Bowman Riley, and it now includes 43 luxurious, one, two and three-bedroom rental apartments with balconies, to create the long-term, steady returns the Canadian investors want.
There will also be 13 larger apartments, four townhouses and six semi-detached houses built for sale and they will come to market later this year. The bonus for the nearby village is the remediation of a walkway linking to the riverside and beautifully restored buildings. Mr Grunfeld says: “It has been a challenge and we have gone over schedule and significantly over budget but it has been very worthwhile. We have reclaimed everything we could and used it, including the cobbles and stone setts and no corners have been cut.
“We have employed the best people, including Bowman Riley and a stonemason who is passionate about old buildings. I am passionate about detail so you can see where the money went.”
There is no doubt that the apartments and amenities are all prime and rents will range from £1,250 pcm up to £3,000 for the three-bedroom penthouse. The beautiful location will also be a huge draw, along with the proximity to the village and its railway station, which are a 10-minute walk away.
However, build to rent flats are generally confined to cities and large towns in Yorkshire, where there is a younger demographic and more transient populations so it has yet to be seen whether the top-end rentals in the mill will prove a success.
Lettings agent Parkes and Co. in nearby Otley is in charge of finding tenants for the properties and viewings for the first 40 have begun. Richard Rhodes, of Parkes and Co, says: “Time will tell but what Joseph and his team have done is amazing. The attention to detail is incredible and the initial signs are very positive. We have already secured reservations on six of the apartments with the first tenants due to move in at the start of August.”
The double-height entrance lobby certainly lives up to expectation with chandeliers, a wall in marble from Lapicida, and a glass lift. The apartments, which all have balconies, have been fitted out with top-end fixtures and fittings and there will be a concierge and 24/7 security.
Joseph is planning an open day for villagers and hopes to finish at Greenholme Mills by Christmas. Meanwhile, he has set his sights on another mill conversion in Wilsden. He says: “Mill conversions have become my passion and after doing something as complex as Greenholme Mills, everything else will be easy.”
For details of the rental apartments at the mill contact www.parkes-let.co.uk.
*In Bradford Industrial Museum, there is a photograph entitled ‘Lunchtime at Greenholme Mills, Burley in Wharfedale’, (see the picture above). Had those pictured been told that their workplace would one day be luxury homes, they wouldn’t have believed it. The year is thought to be 1912 or 1913 and the image features in Mark Keighley’s book ‘Wool City, a history of the Bradford textile industry in the 20th century’. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday.