Time running out for plans to convert historic Derbyshire mills into apartments
Long-awaited apartments plans for historic Derbyshire mill buildings could be refused after years in limbo, with the council considering buying it in order to save it.
The Strutt’s North Mill site in Belper is a landmark part of Derbyshire’s industrial heritage, but it has fallen into disrepair.
Two and a half years ago asset and property management company FI Real Estate Management (FIREM) submitted plans to convert the 200-year-old listed site into 117 apartments.
Amber Valley Borough Council now says that if these are not submitted by the end of March – in two weeks – the application will be refused on the grounds of “insufficient information”.
FIREM has been repeatedly called on to submit further documents on the condition of the building, financial viability of the project and a fully detailed schedule of works to be carried out, but these have not yet been submitted.
The authority is drawing up plans to serve a repairs notice on the owners to ensure the building does not deteriorate even further than it already has.
It wrote in a report discussed at a cabinet meeting last night (March 17): “An ultimate extension of time until March 31, 2021 has been agreed with the applicants to allow for receipt and analysis of all outstanding reports.
“Should this not be met, it will result in a refusal on the grounds of insufficient information, and this could be done quite quickly, if required.
“In such circumstances and in the light of continuing concerns about the condition of the mills it is deemed appropriate to prepare a Repairs Notice to be served as soon as possible.”
The authority’s deputy leader and Belper ward member, Cllr Ben Bellamy, also confirmed that the council was exploring plans to compulsory purchase the site from the owners.
Cllr Bellamy said the historic mill complex could be turned into a hotel, apartments, businesses and shops.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Talks have taken place with Historic England and Derbyshire County Council about securing the future of the mills.
“I see a hotel, apartments, businesses and shops, all complementing the museum.
“If the current owners cannot satisfy us that they have a viable scheme and don’t get planning permission, we will take the steps required to move towards a compulsory purchase.
“Grant funding will be sought and we will look to be working with several partners to deliver a scheme and save the mills.
“The whole scheme is huge and could take several years to see completion.
“We have a duty to UNESCO to look after our World Heritage Site and that is exactly what we propose to do.”
During last night’s meeting Cllr Emma Monkman said: “I really welcome this and I think it is desperately sad that this opportunity is being wasted. For it to fall further into disrepair is just criminal. It is such an incredible landmark in the town and so important to the people of Belper.”
Cllr Kevin Buttery, opposition leader, said he too really wanted the building to be restored but was concerned this was just an election “publicity stunt”.
Cllr Chris Emmas-Williams, leader of the council, rebutted that the building had sat vacant for decades without plans to reuse it and denied it was an “election ploy”.
He said: “Hopefully, if the application comes to fruition, as it should do, then we won’t have to go to compulsory purchase.”
The council report on the issue details that the cost of a compulsory purchase “are likely to be significant” and there may be “unrecoverable” costs to the authority even if another agency helps fund it. The authority itself has its own significant financial issues.
Julian Townsend, the council’s executive director of operations, said during last night’s meeting that the council really needed to see how else it could deal with the building.
He said funding for a compulsory purchase and development of the site could be applied for through the Government’s levelling up fund.
First applications to this fund are due by the end of June but are said to require “spade-ready” plans, which Amber Valley does not have for the mills, Mr Townsend said.
He said the authority would more likely apply in a later stage of applications, if one is available, and also that it would seek the support of the local enterprise partnership.
A spokesperson for FIREM said: “We are continuing to work closely with Amber Valley Council to provide the necessary planning application documents for Belper Mills.
“While Covid-19 has impacted on the ongoing procurement and completion of such documents, including those most recently requested, we are confident of being equipped to issue these as planned within the coming weeks.”
The firm had previously said that it had hoped the planning application would be discussed and decided before the end of 2019, following the request from Historic England for an extensive condition survey and tweaks to the overall design.
Its plan includes retaining and replacing the complex’s windows. The East Mill renovation would also include “internal amenity for residents with terrace areas as ‘winter gardens’”.
The Engine House would also be restored to its original industrial appearance by stripping away walls and ceilings that were installed since it was originally constructed. The plans for the Engine House also involve a new frontage.
Meanwhile, the Turbine House would be converted into a café or restaurant.
A viewing platform overlooking the river gardens could also be included at the top of the East Mill’s west tower.
The North Mill would have a glazed roof installed to improve its use for events.