The demolition of a 520,000 sq ft listed mill complex in Bolton looks set to go ahead, in line with planning consent granted last year, after the Secretary of State confirmed he would not be intervening and Historic England withdrew its objections.
Arndale Properties’ plans to pull down the grade two-listed Beehive Mill on Crescent Road, to make way for 121 new houses on the nine-acre site, were approved against officer recommendations by Bolton Council in October 2016.
While the council’s planners highlighted the historic significance of the buildings and their listed status, councillors decided that the need for housing, and the “eyesore” nature of the vacant property, outweighed the heritage value.
The decision was referred to the Secretary of State, then Greg Clarke, now Sajid Javid, as part of the council’s due process, due to the listed status. An inquiry was set to take place next month, and has been cancelled.
The redevelopment of the vast mill represents an ideological sticking point within the regeneration industry, with heritage conservation priorities on one side, versus the argument for meeting local housing demand and profitable development on the other. While the preservationist Victorian Society has said it is “shocked and disappointed to hear the news”, local councillors have celebrated that the delivery of new homes can go ahead.
According to Arndale’s planning application, submitted last year, the “owner has considered all reasonable uses of the building”, but the estate wasn’t viable for commercial use, or as a residential conversion.
The application estimated a conversion cost of £52m, which the developer said would leave a £30m loss. In the best case scenario, Arndale estimated a £13m deficit, and also said that “there is very little demand for flats in the area”.
Even the local response to the application was mixed, with representations calling the mill “an eyesore” and a “monstrosity that could be subject to arson”, while objectors countered that “buildings are listed for a reason”, with some even against the idea of residential development altogether as “this is not a prosperous area and the properties are likely to remain empty and attract vandals”.
According to Historic England, the organisation has “done all that we reasonably can to challenge the decision” but has withdrawn its objections, on the proviso that “the buildings would only be demolished if the works to construct the replacement housing were ready to start on site and a contract for their construction signed.”
The success of the demolition application also indicates the difficulty in bringing the North’s industrial heritage assets back into use, as Historic England highlights: “Having commissioned a survey into the site’s viability we recognise that the gap in funding to make the conversion financially viable is large and is unlikely to reduce. This exceptional case illustrates the challenges that we face in managing our industrial heritage in places where demand and values are low.”
Within Arndale’s own planning report, it said that Historic England had confirmed that grant funding was limited “and a project of this scale would not be attractive”.
The owner also said that it couldn’t turn to the £300m Greater Manchester Housing Fund for assistance, as even a loan was not “fundamentally viable”.
A council spokesman said: “We are pleased that the Secretary of State has withdrawn his call-in decision. This took place following positive discussions with Historic England and the applicant.
“Historic England withdrew their objection to the proposals following an agreement with the council and the applicant that demolition would not take place until a signed contract to redevelop the site was in place to the satisfaction of the planning authority, subject to consultation with Historic England.
“This condition has been agreed by all three parties. The council will now be issuing outline planning approval for the application once the section 106 agreement has been completed.”