Judgement day for plans to turn Belper’s historic mills into apartments could come at the end of the year, the developer behind the project hopes.
Asset and property management company FI Real Estate Management (FIREM) submitted its plans for the Strutt Mills site 15 months ago.
Since then the firm has been in dispute with flood and conservation experts – with the aim of ensuring that any development would not increase the risk of flooding or damage the character of the listed mill buildings.
Conservation organisations also hope the scheme does not negatively impact on the Grade-II listed Belper River Gardens which neighbour the mills.
The mill compound itself, which consists of four main buildings – the North Mill, Strutt House, the Engine House and the largest of all of the buildings, the East Mills – is a key part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
In 2015, the 200-year-old mills had “deteriorated considerably” and Amber Valley Borough Council had considered a compulsory purchase of the North and East Mills if urgent repairs were not carried out by FIREM.
A spokesperson for FIREM said: “Following the submission of our application to Amber Valley Council, we have spent the last nine months addressing issues raised by Historic England and Amber Valley’s conservation officer. These two parties asked us to investigate options for:
Reducing the extent of proposed new openings in the courtyard facade of Strutt House
Reducing the size of the proposed new openings in the facade of the workshops
Reducing the number of window openings being altered in the ground floor of North Mill
Working with our architect, we have been able to achieve what Historic England and Amber Valley requested for the design.
We have also now identified and engaged a specialist consultant to carry out the specific condition survey requested by Historic England.
The consultant made their initial site visit last week and are now in the process of programming the timescales to complete their report and submit it to Amber Valley.
When Amber Valley receive the condition survey they will issue it to the consultees who will raise any further items that need resolving before we progress our application to go to planning committee.
We hope this will happen before the end of the year.
Cllr Ben Bellamy, deputy leader of the borough council, said: “Clearly with such an iconic and complicated site, its vital that the developer gets it right.
“I hope that they understand the importance of the site as a whole, not just the East Mill.”
As part of the proposed scheme, the East Mill would be converted into 117 apartments which would “combine a modern aesthetic with a respect for the building’s rich history”.
Its windows would be retained or replaced.
The East Mill renovation would also include “internal amenity for residents with terrace areas as ‘winter gardens’”.
Its ground floor would be home to leisure facilities and a residents-only gym.
Work would be done to connect the mill complex to the river gardens.
This would include a walkway from the footbridge at the weir side of the building to the courtyard via the main East Mill entrance.
The architecture of Strutt House would be “simplified” to create an “eye-catching” retail offer, modern office building, wedding venue or restaurant.
Later extensions to the building, not part of the original design, would be removed.
The Engine House would also be restored to its original industrial appearance by stripping away walls and ceilings that were installed since it was originally constructed. The plans for the Engine House also involve a new frontage.
Meanwhile, the Turbine House would be converted into a cafe or restaurant.
A viewing platform overlooking the river gardens could also be included at the top of the East Mill’s west tower.
The North Mill would have a glazed roof installed to improve its use for events.
The former soft play area “Chucklebutties” which closed in May could be retained as a “play-gym” and upgraded.
A car park in front of its former premises could be used periodically for market stalls and events.
An existing nursery in The Pavilion could be retained or converted into a cafe or restaurant to “maximise the riverside setting”.
A new car park “deck” could also be built along the current access road to the river gardens parking area.
The first mill building, the South Mill was built on the site in 1776 by Jedidiah Strutt, with operations continuing at the site until the early 1990s when cotton spinning in the East Mill came to a close after more than 200 years.
Mr Strutt completed the North Mill in 1786 out of timber. It burned down in a fire in 1803 and was rebuilt by his son, William, in 1804.
The replacement had a “fire proof” iron frame.
Many of the original buildings on the opposite side of the Bridge Foot road – including the West, Junction and Reeling Mills, and the Round Building – were demolished between 1959-66.
It is said that the remaining North Mill, East Mill, some additional buildings and the nearby horseshoe weir give just a small idea of the extent of what was once a vast complex and the impact it had on the town.
At its peak, almost 2,000 people were employed in the Strutt Mills.