The Leeds textile mills of the past ‘could drive growth’

John Gaunt (left) and William Gaunt pictured inside Sunny Bank Mills, Farsley. PIC: Simon Hulme
John Gaunt (left) and William Gaunt pictured inside Sunny Bank Mills, Farsley. PIC: Simon Hulme
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THE TEXTILE mills of Leeds and the West Riding defined the area for generations, not only employing many thousands of workers, but shaping the landscape of villages and towns.

But after manufacturing gradually came to a standstill, more than 1,300 mills across West Yorkshire stand empty or under-used.

Now a new report from Historic England is calling for mill owners and developers to tap into this vacant goldmine - and use the engines of our past prosperity to drive forward the Northern Powerhouse agenda.

The report says the region’s former textile mills could accommodate 27,000 homes or 150,000 jobs - with a typical vacant mill having the potential to create £4.7m a year if used for employment.

Some of the best conversions across the county were examined to investigate potential solutions, such as Marshalls Mill in Holbeck and Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley.

Sunny Bank Mills, which closed in 2008 after 180 years of production, received acclaim for the way in which the regeneration was phased, to ensure it could be self-financed without relying on external funding.

When it closed in 2008, joint managing directors, cousins William and John Gaunt, were determined to see it remain. Regeneration began in 2010, since then over £4m invested. Now 60 businesses occupy space there, from engineers to architects and a children’s play gym. It also has community space.

William Gaunt said: “Commercially it would have been sensible to knock down the buildings and start again, but when manufacturing stopped two things were important, that we kept the site as a place that provide employment, and preserved as many of the buildings as possible.”

Historic England planning director for Yorkshire, Trevor Mitchell said: “We want to work with partners willing to find creative solutions to bring new uses to these old mills to secure their future.”

Securing the successful transformation of mills across the region could act as a catalyst for the revitalisation of the surrounding area, but also act as a focal point for local communities.

Property consultants Cushman and Wakefield found growing developer and investor appetite in taking on former mills.

Director, Stephen Miles said learning from “those who had done it well” would have a lasting impact on the region’s economy and on the survival of our heritage.