Posted by: dianesims | April 21, 2010

Time to move forwards at Newsome Mills?

It’s been three long years (and counting) since the clock at Newsome Mills fell silent. Three years of confusion, worry, hope and despair for anyone who cares about these buildings and their place in our community. Because it hasn’t just been the clock that’s been keeping quiet as the months roll by. We’ve also had the silence of poor communication to deal with – great swathes of time in which owners, contractors, council staff and police officers have remained silent, leaving us residents staring up at our broken building and wondering what the hell is going on.

I think it’s fair to say that we probably didn’t expect that. Mind you, we didn’t expect a lot of the things that have happened since planning permission was first granted for a housing scheme at Newsome Mill in October 2006.

We didn’t plan for the fires, theft, fly-tipping, vandalism, global economic downturn and the odd earthquake. But we’re still here, and so is our mill. It’s easy to be defiant (after all, we’ve had a lot of practice) but in our frustration we perhaps shouldn’t forget that the owners have been trying to cope with the unexpected too – and it hasn’t been easy for anyone.

Today, we have something to talk about. The owners of the mill, now under the name of Panorama Living Ltd (also known as Royalle Estates) have submitted a new planning application and have applied for Listed Building Consent to convert the mill into housing. The plans are similar to their previous planning application (which expired last October). They plan to convert the four-storey mill into 40 apartments, convert the weaving sheds into 8 duplex apartments, convert the old office building into a three-bedroom house, and build 20 new houses on the land behind the mill.

For those of you who remember the details of the previous application, the main changes are:

1. There won’t be any new-build apartments – just houses behind the mill.

2. There will be more new build houses (20 instead of 13), as these properties are more likely to sell in the current housing market.

3. The weaving sheds will be converted into duplex (split level) apartments, instead of single-storey apartments.

4. Overall, there will be 48 apartments in the mill (instead of 45).

What’s also different this time is that the owners need to apply for Listed Building Consent, which means showing things like where the cast iron columns will end up in relation to the internal walls, how the fabric of the building will be treated etc. This also means that the drawings with the planning application are more detailed this time, and there are lots of them to look at.

If you want a quick overview, try these documents:

Site plan: Site plan 1 (PDF 638Kb)

Design and access statement: Statement 1 (PDF 331Kb)

Heritage statement: Additional 10 (PDF 400Kb)

Front of mill: Elevations 1 (PDF 322Kb)

Back of mill: Elevations 2 (PDF 332Kb)

Sides of mill: Elevations 3 (PDF 400Kb)

New houses: Elevations 4 (PDF 238Kb)

Or you can look at the full planning application.

I want to say that it’s fantastic to finally see these plans (which I first got a glimpse of over a year ago) make it into the open. This scheme is an opportunity to see all of these buildings brought back into use and to give our mill a future. However, if planning permission is granted, that will just be the start of it. There may be further delays depending on the economic climate, and there may be a lot more things to worry about once the building work gets underway. So this has to be the start of a dialogue too. We have to make our voices heard to make sure that our mill is restored sensitively – and we need to start speaking up now.

Hidden in the depths of these many documents (in the Heritage statement) there is a sentence saying that “it may not be possible to restore the clock to working order”.

Have a think about that for a minute.

Have a think about whether you think it’s right / fair / acceptable / sensitive to the mill and its history.

The mill was listed because of its special relationship to the Newsome area. Perhaps the issue of whether the clock works or not is a triviality to the owners and architects, but it means everything to the people who live here. Sometime, if we’re going to work our way out of this stalemate and if we want to avoid a great deal more distress for all concerned, a little empathy is required. A little bit of stopping to think about it.

I will also be thinking about what I make of some of the other new details:

1. The water tank on top of the clock tower will be painted black, not blue.

2. The North lights on the weaving sheds will be partly replaced with black panels.

3. The original wooden partitions will be removed completely, not re-used on site.

4. The original floor boards may be removed.

I’ll be thinking about how much of the old we’re expected to give up for the new. It’s a balancing act. For example, keeping the partitions would mean that the owners could fit six fewer apartments inside the mill, with big consequences for their finances. You can see the dilemma.

We need to move forwards. But the hands on the clock need to move forwards too – that’s what we are all waiting for. And if there’s a problem with fixing the clock, or with anything else, then we need to talk about it. This is a resourceful community. We’ve already recovered the stolen war memorial and are getting it restored. I know we’ll find a way to get other things done too, if it comes to it.

Now is the time for talking… because none of us can afford to fall back into silence.


  1. I think it is now time to support ANY measure that can bring life back to Newsome Mill site.
    There is a danger of being bogged down with trivialities if this happens we could be back to square one and the only option would be letting the site get worse.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right to say that we need to focus on what’s important – bringing the mill buildings back into use. This planning application is very good news and I’m pleased to see that Newsome residents are supporting it.

    The reason that I’ve raised the issue of the mill clock is that so many residents have expressed concern over this during the past three years. People stop me in the street to ask about it, send me emails, give feedback at local events and regularly ask questions about the clock at public meetings. I’m doing what I can to help those residents get their voices heard, because I know that many people in Newsome (and beyond) will be disappointed and upset if the clock remains idle. I appreciate that some people might feel it’s not that important (especially in comparison to all the other problems), but many people do care about it.

    I also want to reassure you that I don’t want to see the planning process stall again either, which is why I’m encouraging everyone concerned to make more of an effort to talk about the mill and to help each other solve any problems we encounter along the way.

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