Abbey Mills: Historic Kirkstall mills to be auctioned off for £100,000 by Leeds Council in move branded 'bonkers'

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Leeds City Council’s decision to auction off a historic Grade II-listed site has been labelled “bonkers” by its longest-serving representative.

Councillor John Illingworth said he was “really quite cross” that Abbey Mills, which has been publicly owned for 60 years, is due to go under the hammer next month. The 19th century mill buildings have been valued collectively at around £100,000, after the council said there was no financial benefit to retaining the property, which stands next to Kirkstall Abbey.

In recent years, only a dwindling number of businesses have made use of the overall site as its condition has crumbled. The main mill buildings themselves have been empty since 2011. But Labour veteran Councillor Illingworth, who has represented the Kirkstall area since 1979, hit out at the move, branding it “bad news”.

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Speaking on Tuesday, he said: “I’ll be pressing my colleagues to say this is not a good idea and it’s going to do long-term harm to the area I represent. In future people will look at the site and think the decision to sell it is bonkers.”

Abbey Mills, off Kirkstall Road, Leeds, pictured in 2008.Abbey Mills, off Kirkstall Road, Leeds, pictured in 2008.
Abbey Mills, off Kirkstall Road, Leeds, pictured in 2008.

Councillor Illingworth, who has been a vocal campaigner on environmental causes during his time in office, said he wanted the site to be used for the training and development of water source heat pumps. Heat pumps can save households energy and money and are seen as a greener alternative to traditional gas boiler systems. Councillor Illingworth added: “It’s the perfect site for it. It’s sat on the river bank where we own land on both sides of the channel, and that’s a really important point.

The Kirkstall councillor, who is standing down this year, also hit out at the local authority for failing to maintain the site. He said: “They say it’s not generating revenue, but it was never supposed to be a revenue-generating site when the council took it on. Over half of it has fallen down because it’s not been maintained. The understanding was the council would mend it. But there’s holes in the roof that have never been fixed. The conservation record really is dreadful.

“They say it’s being sold off because it’s in poor condition. Well, who made it into that poor condition? That’s a question that has to be asked. The whole thing is just bad news and I hope I can persuade my senior colleagues that it’s a bad scheme.”

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In 2019, a possible community-led takeover of Abbey Mills collapsed after disagreements over the prospect of a new access road and funding. A council spokesperson said: “The majority of Abbey Mills has been vacant for over a decade and for many years we have supported a number of proposals by various groups interested in developing the site, but unfortunately none of these have come to fruition. We have been providing essential repairs to Abbey Mills while it remained empty but, without major financial investment, the building is not appropriate for re-letting.

“Due to the significant financial pressure the council is under, the decision to sell Abbey Mills has been made, to enable it to be refurbished and brought back into sustainable use. The guide price reflects the condition of the buildings and limitations imposed by access restrictions and flood risk zoning.”