Historic Belper mill site in urgent need of repairs

NBENBE111023b9, World heritage site discovery days, Belper. east mill, north mill and bridge.
NBENBE111023b9, World heritage site discovery days, Belper. east mill, north mill and bridge.

The owners of Belper’s Strutt’s mills complex risk losing it to the council - unless significant repairs are undertaken.

A report, set to be discussed at a meeting of Amber Valley Borough Council’s cabinet next Wednesday (September 2), reveals that the state of the 200-year-old mills have “deteriorated considerably”.

It states the council could consider a compulsory purchase order on the North Mill and East Mill, which are both listed buildings, should urgent repairs regarding water damage not be carried out.

A repairs notice is now expected to be issued to the mills’ owners, FI Real Estate Management (FIREM), with the council indicating that if it is not complied with they could consider seizing the historic site in order to protect it.

The report outlines: “Based on the visits made earlier this year, which showed that the state of both buildings had deteriorated considerably, it is anticipated that an up-to-date survey will generate a substantial schedule of works that will be attached to the resultant repairs notice. Should the owners fail to comply with the repairs notice, it is proposed that compulsory purchase procedures commence.

“Should the council ultimately acquire the mills, securing a successful “back-to-back” agreement would be facilitated by effective plans and ‘grant’ funding to carry out the necessary repairs and redevelopment.”

Councillor Kevin Buttery, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said the possibility of a compulsory purchase should be seen as a “last resort”.

He said: “The council wants to work with the owners to help bring the mills back into usage.

“This is us taking the opportunity to remind the owners of their responsibilities.

“In my opinion, the compulsory purchase is a last resort and I don’t view the repairs notice as an ultimatum.

“We need to work with the owners in the future.”

A spokesperson for FIREM said that a positive strategy to secure their future had been discussed with the council in principle.

They said: “Based on the council’s initial reactions, architects had been commissioned to prepare plans for a mix of residential, retail and office uses for the properties to form the basis of a planning application.

“This would negate the need to pursue a time consuming, complex and inflexible grant route which may not yield a result and secure the fastest solution to the regeneration of the mills.

“FIREM confirmed that a comprehensive, planned maintenance programme was ongoing, tackling roof leakage problems as these occurred, as well as other essential work which historic buildings of such size require and that this would continue to protect them.”

Peter Arnold, chair of the Belper North Mill Trust group which promotes the protection and conservation of the site, said the most important thing is that the historic landmark is preserved for years to come.

The North Mill, which was rebuilt in 1804 after fire damaged the original build, is one of the oldest surviving iron-framed ‘fireproof’ buildings in the world.

He said: “This is such an important building, not just locally, but in the world.

“The North Mill was the first-ever fireproof mill and it’s structure was innovative and still is to this day.

“To lose a building such as this would be catastrophic. We need to do everything we can to preserve it.”