A study by Historic England has shown that 85% of Northerners are opposed to the demolition and replacement of England’s mills – our recent Mills Development Conference has heard. A further 90% of adults living in England believe that mills are an important part of its character and history.

Despite the popular support to save the mills there has been many that have been demolished,  Catherine Dewar, North West Regional Director at Historic England told delegates: “Greater Manchester has lost half its mills. 50% have gone since 1988 which equates to approximately 500 mills.”  

Dewar highlighted the transformational potential of mills if they were regenerated and put back into use: “There’s enough floor space to deliver 35,000 homes in the North West and Yorkshire and that’s not including the space around the mills. Alternatively, it’s enough to provide £23m in business rates.”

Historic England completed a survey in 2017 into the condition and potential of mills across the country entitled Engines of Prosperity: New Uses for Old Mills. Dewar explained the origin of the report: “We worked with Cushman & Wakefield and Latham’s Architects to look at successful conversions and what we could learn from them and highlighted potential conversions as well.”

Some of the successful conversions for mills include mixed-use developments such as Dean Clough Mills in Halifax, arts & culture venues, such as Salts Mill in Saltire, or even the return of cotton spinning and weaving at Tower Mill, one of the few active historic textile mill in the nation.

The redevelopment of mills could provide commercial rejuvenation, ease the housing crisis and drive economic growth. But in some ways their symbolic significance outweighs this, not only their historical value, but also how they were once at the core of many communities across the country, and many can play that role again.