St Ann's Mills & Abbey Mills
In January 2006 Leeds City Council "consulted" 1000 Kirkstall residents on the future of the historic Abbey Mills and St Ann's Mills in the Kirkstall Valley. Abbey Mills was founded in the middle ages, and is grade 2 listed. St Ann's Mills is not currently listed, but a new listing application was submitted in September 2008. Most of the surviving buildings on both sites date from around 1830. Council development officers repeatedly claimed that they lacked sufficient resources to properly maintain all these buildings, and therefore proposed to sell Abbey Mills for residential conversion, while investing the profits in St Ann's Mills to create modern light industrial units.
The basic problem with this "public consultation" is that the proposals that were put before the public (and the councillors) differed from the scheme that the council's development officers were apparently planning to build. Such discrepancies have become a widespread and serious problem with local government in Leeds, which is undermining public confidence in the council's basic integrity and fair dealing.
Leeds City Council development officers completely excluded all three Kirkstall councillors from the preparations for this public consultation, lest we 'bias' the results. An independent market research company called Swift Research Ltd was commissioned to manage the process and avoid 'bias'. There was much talk about "restoring these historic buildings to their former glory". At the same time, the Council consulted on a planning brief for the future residential re-development of Abbey Mills.
Many details of this superficially attractive scheme proved to be either misleading or completely false. Careful examination of the proposals revealed that almost every aspect was tainted in some way. Even the maps were wrong! Repair costs were over-estimated, while relocation and conversion costs were under-estimated, so the overall package was underfunded by several million pounds. An external audit report by KPMG revealed multiple serious arithmetic errors in the financial calculations. The Information Commissioner has established that Swift Research were not in fact the independent authors of the public consultation documents. These were all prepared 'in house' by Leeds City Council development staff.
Click here for specific examples of misleading information.
The proposals for Abbey Mills do not meet highway safety standards and would cause significant environmental damage with extensive loss of mature trees. The scheme at St Ann's Mills proved to be 'serviced offices' rather than light industrial units. These depended on a major commercial office development on adjacent land within the floodplain of the River Aire that now seems unlikely to receive Environment Agency approval.
The council is now deeply mired in a disaster of its own making. Large sections of both buildings are empty and boarded up, whereas previously they were in beneficial use. There is little chance that either National or European funding organisations will touch this shambles with a barge pole, and the public should be deeply suspicious of any private sector "rescue package". In June 2008 the council's Executive Board accepted that all their earlier plans were completely unrealistic and resolved to put St Ann's Mills on the market without any planning restrictions for whatever money they could get. An alternative proposal from the local community to restore both buildings for employment uses using a community interest company was rejected out of hand. There is a large and well-documented website with full details of this extraordinary affair.
Last updated 13 December 2008 at 00:14. Back to the top
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