‘Time running out’ to save historic Derbyshire mills and museum
‘Time is running out’ for an historic Derbyshire mills building – and the museum within it could be forced to close, the charity which runs it fears.
The Belper North Mill Trust, which runs a small museum and visitor centre on the site, says the historic complex has been “sadly neglected” for years.
It says “Belper deserves better” and that there needs to be a solid commitment to repairing the listed Mill complex and retaining its public use for future generations.
The charity is concerned that if this is not done, the Derwent Valley Mills area – running from Derby up to Matlock along the river – could be stripped of its World Heritage Site status, as is currently the risk in Liverpool.
John Layton, chairman of the trust, has penned an extensive statement, saying the museum and visitor centre – which attract 4,000 and 3,500 people a year respectively – could close as soon as spring next year if work to repair the complex is not carried out.
Meanwhile, FI Real Estate Management, which owns the complex, says it is still pushing to redevelop the Mills and has no intention of closing them.
Cllr Kevin Buttery, leader of Amber Valley Borough Council, says the planning application to turn the site into 117 apartments and businesses will not be debated until at least September. This is three years after they were registered with the council.
He says potential plans to compulsory purchase (force it to sell) the site off the developers, to ensure it is repaired, are on hold until the planning application is decided.
In March, FIREM had been given a final month to submit vital documents or face a prompt rejection of its project.
Mr Layton writes: “The state of the East Mill, North Mill and others have declined year on year. Even a modest inspection of the buildings reveals multiple problems – they are not being treated as important historic buildings.
“Much of that fault lies with the owners although the economic situation and complexity of the site and absence of an easy solution do make the challenge of redevelopment difficult.
“A solution needs to be found and the trust is aware that there is broad agreement with this aim.
“The buildings are in a very poor state of repair and if closed no public access to the Belper Mills site will be available and the aspiration for Belper North Mill to become the central hub of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site will be kicked into the long grass, possibly forever.
“The implication of a closure of the Strutt museum and visitor centre would be a highly undesirable development but the trust believes it could happen as early as spring 2022 if remedial action is not taken
“In the trust’s view, continued designation as a World Heritage Site will be seriously damaged if community access to the North Mill is not maintained.
“The North Mill itself is on the English Heritage at risk register and despite this no improvements have been put in place and the building has degraded significantly. Development schemes have been put forward but none with proven viability and none have been given planning approval.
“The trust fears that such a lack of action will endanger the World Heritage status of Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site as well as the other issues that have emerged in the last few years such as the encroachment of further housing into the buffer zone.”
A spokesperson for FI Real Estate Management (FIREM) said: “There are no plans to close the North Mill where Belper North Mill Trust is based.
“As the Trust is aware, we are currently awaiting the outcome of a planning decision, which once decided will enable us to progress plans for the site as a whole.
“We have taken time during the pandemic to seek specialist reports and costings to assist with this project, as we appreciate it is important to the local community and the heritage of the site as a whole.
“We will provide more information in due course when we’re in a position to disclose our plans.”
Cllr Buttery said: “The council is continuing to work with the applicant on the planning applications in respect of proposed alteration, conversion and erection of buildings and associated change of use to the Belper Mills.
“It has received additional documentation from the applicant in accordance with an agreed
deadline and is now required to carry out an independent assessment of that in advance of a report being considered by the planning board.
“There are no plans to commence any action leading to compulsory purchase proceedings until the planning process has been exhausted.
“There was no provision made in the council’s revenue or capital budget for this financial year, to carry out a repairs notice or a compulsory purchase of the site.
“The council has experienced delays in securing an independent consultant to assess the latest documentation from the applicant and this will affect the date of the applications being considered by the planning board. I anticipate that this will not be until at least September.
“With both Liverpool and Stonehenge being at risk from losing its Unesco World Heritage status, I can understand the nervousness about whether the Derwent Valley Mills could be next.
“Obviously Amber Valley Borough Council will continue working with other local councils to retain the status.
“However, whatever decisions Unesco makes in the future, our heritage and buildings will remain, it will just be the plaque which will be lost. Only time will tell as to the economic impact of such loss of status.”