Did you receive this brochure from the Council?
  - Click here for some important information.

If you did get one, you were lucky, because 95% of Kirkstall residents did not.

The brochure was a "planning consultation" by the Council about the future of the Kirkstall mills. Only 1000 copies contained a special reply-paid questionnaire, so if you received one of these, your views were given special weight.

15,000 electors in Kirkstall (plus their children) were not so lucky. In total these brochures cost £14,000 to prepare and distribute, but the vital questionnaires were only delivered to a select group of people. Many recipients accepted the Council's information in good faith and filled in the questionnaire, without realising that the brochure did not tell the whole story...

This website was started in January 2006 by John Illingworth, who is a local councillor with some inside knowledge.

There is a separate Kirkstall councillors' website which deals with numerous other issues in Kirkstall ward.

The site that you are reading now ONLY deals with the Kirkstall Mills, where something very peculiar is happening. It is still being updated to reflect a constantly changing situation, and tries to explain what is really going on. Click any of the blue links below to go straight to the relevant section.

Here are some things the Council's "official" brochure did not reveal:

The new access road for the proposed development would go through here:

The photograph above shows Abbey Villa, which has just been grade 2 listed by English Heritage and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Click here to download the listing statement. The proposed access road for the Abbey Mills development cuts straight across the foreground on a raised earth embankment, between the house and Kirkstall Abbey Park.

site navigation

This is the "Introduction". The other sections provide a short summary, or deal with specialist topics in greater detail. All can be reached by clicking the buttons below.

Brief summary
St Ann's Mills
Executive Board

Leeds City Council wants to sell Abbey Mills for residential development and invest the proceeds in St Ann's, but this isn't as simple as it seems. The scheme makes a loss, not a profit, and there are many unwanted side-effects on the surrounding area. Council plans for St Ann's Mills are still secret, but a new access road for Abbey Mills does not meet highway safety standards and would severely damage the local environment. The proposals will be discussed at the Annual General Meeting of the Kirkstall Village Community Association on 6th April 2006.

These historic mills are among the oldest buildings in Kirkstall, after Kirkstall Abbey (founded 1152) and Kirkstall Forge. Most of the surviving buildings are about 175 years old. Both mills were reconstructed shortly after St Stephen's Church but they have undergone less alteration in subsequent years.

How to complain

You don't have to share my politics to be concerned about this affair. If you read the rest of this website, you will discover that Leeds City Council has engaged in a local "planning consultation" which:

This isn't genuine public consultation. Better simply to call it a "con".

In all likelihood the market research company engaged by the Council will calculate some statistics from the present biased sample. If people complain about the consequences in two years time, they may be told something like: "The Council consulted Kirkstall residents in 2006 and a majority of those canvassed were happy with the Council's plans."

The time to complain is now. You could write or email to any or all of the following people:

Leeds City Council Chief Officer: Paul Rogerson, Civic Hall, Leeds LS1 1UR. telephone: 0113 247 4554 email: paul.rogerson@leeds.gov.uk

The Audit Commission Complaints Manager: Pauline Painter, Audit Commission, Westward House, Lime Kiln Close, Stoke Gifford, Bristol BS34 8SR. Telephone 0117 975 3131 email: p-painter@audit-commission.gov.uk

The District Auditor: Kevin Wharton, KMPG, 1 The Embankment, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4DW. Telephone 0113 231 3354 email: kevin.wharton@kpmg.co.uk

Deputy Prime Minister: The Rt Hon John Prescott MP, ODPM, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU telephone: 020 7944 4400 email: enquiryodpm@odpm.gsi.gov.uk

The Deputy Prime Minister gets hundreds of letters each day, so you should not expect a personal reply. His office has overall responsibility for Local Government, Town Planning and Freedom of Information, so he is the appropriate "person" to hear complaints. These may well do some good, but you will receive a response from a Civil Servant.

Local Ombudsman: Anne Seex, Beverley House, 17 Shipton Road, York YO30 5FZ. telephone: 01904 380200 email: enquiries@lgo.org.uk

The ombudsman has a website with a complaint form and an advice line 0845 602 1983. To use the Ombudsman service you must have suffered some personal injustice through Council misinformation or exclusion from the debate. You may have to live very close or demonstrate some particular personal interest in the mills.

Freedom of Information

This website is based on documentary evidence. If you don't believe me, you can check the originals for yourself. Except for a few key papers identified below, most of them are public documents that are available under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, either directly from Leeds City Council, or from one of the other agencies involved, such as the Environment Agency. If you manage to extract any of the secret material, please let me know!

To independently check my account and obtain your own copies of Council documents mentioned in this website, please write or email to:

Leeds City Council Freedom of Information Officer: Mark Turnbull, St George House, 40 Great George Street, Leeds LS1 3DL. telephone: 0113 247 4537 email: mark.turnbull@leeds.gov.uk

Some key questions for Leeds City Council

Many people would love to know the answers to these questions. Click here to prepare an email message to Mr Rogerson. [This will start up your email client, but there is an opportunity for you to read and edit the message before it goes. Nothing will be sent anywhere without your approval.] If you have any success then please send me a copy.

Val Crompton's line drawing of Abbey Mills

This drawing shows the historic mill buildings looking North from the footpath between Bridge Road and Kirkstall Abbey. It was first published in 2005 on the front cover of "Kirkstall Matters" which is the magazine of the Kirkstall Village Community Association. Click here to download the full resolution version. Copyright: Val Crompton © 2005.

Secret Plans

Considering that the Council has embarked on a public consultation about the future of St Ann's Mills, you might be surprised to learn that the Council's plans for these historic buildings are still secret. I am not joking! People, like me, who asked to see the plans for St. Ann's Mills were told that these were only drafts, so they are still "confidential". You might otherwise imagine that the local councillors had a need to know. If you don't believe me, try asking for them yourself. Send a letter or an email to the Council's Director of Development, Jean Dent, and ask her for a copy of the draft plans for St Ann's Mills that were used when Council officers sought government funding from Yorkshire Forward in March 2005. Try to make it easy for her, and offer to accept these drawings in electronic form. Please let me know if anybody has any success, and send me a copy, please.

One reason for the lack of drawings is that the Council hasn't the foggiest idea how to solve the problems it has created for itself. Councillors and officers have made various mutually contradictory statements about the Kirkstall Mills, to which there is now no sensible, financially viable solution. Instead of recognising the problem and seeking external advice, the Council tries to pretend that it can square the circle and deliver fully restored historic buildings and at the same time foster numerous profitable new businesses, without needing any subsidy from public funds. It can't be done, and the danger is that in its efforts to find a solution, the Council may opt for some irrational outcome that causes serious damage with no real propect of success.

The public are being asked to endorse something they have never seen. Click here for details of a very much bigger scheme that the Council has kept under wraps. The Council's initial proposals for St Ann's Mills in 2004 were extremely ugly, with metal security fences 2 metres high which almost completely excluded the public from an attractive riverside location. All three Kirkstall councillors said that this was unacceptable, after which they haven't shown us any more plans.

Concept study for St Ann's Mills prepared in February 2004

The bold text in red was added by me.

Greased lightning

The Council's planning consultation was amazingly quick. It was all over in a fortnight. The Council brochures and questionnaires landed on selected residents' doormats around 20th January, and the closing date for responses was 3rd February. Some residents were canvassed, door-to-door. Government guidelines say that a public consultation should last for three months. Page 15 of the Leeds Compact (which the Council agreed with local Voluntary Groups) recommends 12 weeks for written consultations. There is more good advice in the National Compact agreed between the Government and Voluntary Sectors. Every significant organisation has signed up to 12-week consultation periods, except for LCC Development Department, which is the odd one out. People who responded quickly were entered into a prize draw for £50. I believe this was the shortest planning consultation ever held in British political history, perhaps in the whole world - it should be in the Guinness Book of Records. Does anybody, anywhere, know of a shorter one? Have any residents been approached after the closing date? I would be interested to hear reports of the canvass interviews.

The names of the lucky punters were kept secret, so one effect of all this speed was to guarantee that absolutely everybody who replied to the Council's questionnaire would not know the full story, because nobody else could contact them to put an alternative view. This doesn't mean that their opinions don't count, but they might well have been slightly different had they learned what was really going on.

Here is the front page of the Council's consultation brochure

Reading this, you might also want to respond to the questionnaire. You can try, but the Council won't be listening. The consultation brochures are published on the Leeds City Council website, but you will look in vain for the corresponding questionnaire. These were all individually coded and numbered to make sure that nobody else could respond before the deadline. Other views will not be counted. People will be wasting their time.

Swift Research

The brochures were distributed by a Market Research company, based in Wetherby, called "Swift Research". They have a website which gives their phone number 01937 543600 and their email address info@swift-research.co.uk. They were commissioned by Leeds City Council officers to carry out this work. There is no suggestion that they have done anything wrong. Ask them for their version of these events.

Why does this matter?

Traditionally, governments and public authorities have done their own consultation. There are laws and recommendations that apply this, which are designed to ensure that the process is transparent. They guard against human error and the possibility of fraud. Normally all the consultation responses are published. Anybody can find out who wrote them, and where they live. This prevents people submitting multiple responses, trying to swing the result. It also means that if you make a response, you can be sure that it has been received and taken into account.

Market research is governed by different laws. It claims to be secret, under the Data Protection Acts, but it doesn't have the elaborate precautions of a genuine secret ballot. Market research is often based on random sampling, which prevents the vast majority of people from participating in the survey work. Every registered elector has a vote in a proper election and the returning officer publishes the names and addresses of everybody who took part, although nobody knows which way individuals voted. This provides an important safeguard against ballot stuffing, impersonation and fraud. Democracy is seen to be done. In contrast to this, we can never be absolutely certain who took part in the recent Kirkstall Mills consultation, where they lived, or even whether they really existed or not.

A lot of money rides on planning consultations - perhaps £40,000,000 in the present case. People sometimes do strange things for this amount of money. I have observed several cases of malpractice during the 27 years that I have served as a local councillor, none of which resulted in a prosecution. Some of them resulted in a spectacular waste of public funds. It is not as rare as people imagine.

There are particular problems in the present case, where one so-called "official" viewpoint enjoys vastly greater financial resources and privileged access to the public, and seeks a snap decision before the people have heard any alternative views. The selective delivery pattern means the random sample will be dominated by people living remote from the site.

But the biggest objection to Market Research is that it degrades and diminishes the democratic process, reducing everything to slogans and the simplistic counting of votes. Real consultation leads to a public debate, and creates new ideas and initiatives. It is more about free-ranging discussion, persuading people and winning them over by reasoned arguments, rather than packing ballot boxes with votes.

Audit Inquiries

Amazing as it may seem, this public "consultation" was conducted while the Council was waiting for the results of an External Audit Inquiry into an earlier report on the Kirkstall Mills. The original report was received by the Executive Board on 15 December 2004. It was agenda item 18. There is an annotated version on this website, where I draw attention to the numerous mistakes, and you can download the complete bundle (2MB) of original reports from the Leeds City Council website. Scroll through to item 18. The Executive Board decision established Council policy in this area, and formed the basis for the "public consultation" on the Kirkstall Mills. Council policy would be undermined if the original report proved to be incorrect.

I noticed numerous arithmetical and other factual mistakes in the December 2004 report, and complained initially to the Council's Internal Audit Division. This did not lead to an immediately useful result, so after 8 months the matter was taken up by External Audit, whose inquiries were concluded in May 2006, after the "public consultation" on the Kirkstall Mills was complete.

In relation to the 'discounted cash flow' (DCF) model used for the Council's financial appraisal, the auditors wrote:

"... there were a number of mathematical inaccuracies, inconsistencies between the narrative of the report and financial information contained in the detail of the DCF model and a lack of clarity in other areas. These combined mean that the financial information reported to the Executive Board was incorrect and potentially misleading."
"... The inconsistencies within the report and between the report narrative and the DCF model also make it difficult to determine the exact nature of what is being recommended in terms of the development under each option. This would not be obvious to the reader of the report ..."
"... the accuracy of the information incorporated in this model is fundamental as the assumptions are not open to scrutiny by the reader.

You can download the complete External Audit Report from the Leeds City Council website.

You can read part of my original submission to External Audit in this website. Auditors work independently, and only considered a small fraction of my complaints that were relatively easy to check. I do not have an issue with this, because they found ample flaws in the council's proposals at a relatively low cost to the public purse. There were, however, many additional problems that have been (at least partially) acknowledged by the council, so I reproduce some of them here:

Double counting

It is apparent from reading the December 2004 report to the Executive Board, and the original surveyors' reports on Abbey Mills, that some costs have been counted twice. The effect is to considerably exaggerate the problems facing the Council at Abbey Mills. In particular, paragraphs 2.6 and 2.7 in the December report identify the costs at Abbey Mills as £626,000 "backlog maintenance" with Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliance, redecoration and future maintenance to be added on top. However, the surveyors report makes it clear that these costs have already been included in the base sum. You can download the surveyors' summary here.

Mapping errors

Council officers showed some early designs for Abbey Mills to Kirkstall Village Community Association members on 28 July 2004. Detailed examination showed that the road layout had not been drawn correctly, since the "stop line" for the new access road was on the centre line of the A65 Abbey Road. This feature is still wrong in the Consultation Draft of the Planning and Development Brief for Abbey Mills, which the Council recently published for public debate. People can check this for themselves: it is figure L2 on page 26. (Note the outbound vehicle on Abbey Road beneath the overlay.) This matters considerably because it greatly affects the sight lines for the access road, and the number of trees that must be cut down. This mistake was a simple pasting error, but further inquiries revealed serious underlying errors in the Council's digital plans for Abbey Mills, where local survey data had been incorrectly plotted onto the Ordnance Survey base. The direction of North was wrong! The map-maker had compounded this error by pasting other bits from the Ordnance Survey on skewed, trying to make them fit, and finished with a real "dog's breakfast" of survey results and mapping fragments aligned in various different directions. The effect was to produce huge errors in the road alignment, with the inbound cycle track running through residents' front rooms in the "Normans" towards DeLacy Mount. Abbey Mill itself was omitted from the map, so the sight lines looked better than they really were.

Part of the defective map, with the errors shaded brown

This resulted in some acrimony, since the Council's planners initially refused to acknowledge that their maps were wrong, and suggested instead that Ordnance Survey had made a mistake. A top surveying team were brought in, and Ordnance Survey re-measured the entire site. Their original OS maps were found to be accurate, and eventually, several months later, the Council finally admitted it was wrong. This is not a trivial matter, because the road designs for Abbey Mills cannot achieve the recommended safe geometry. This is a road safety issue and peoples' lives will be at risk.

Discounted Cash Flow Analysis

Discounted cash flow analysis is useful for assessing the yield from competing investment decisions. Its usefulness is less clear for development undertaken in the public interest. How, for example, does one assess the investment value of a public park, or even a subsidised workspace for small business start-ups? Nevertheless this technique was used for the Executive Board report, where some very serious errors have been detected. Both the Council's DCF spreadsheet and my critique can be downloaded here. In my view this exercise should be repeated, after correcting the arithmetical and valuation mistakes, but this time considering the additional options of investing in the vacant space at Abbey Mills, and also in the modern units at Barkston House and Croydon House within the Council's Domestic Street industrial complex, where many units are vacant and the refurbishment costs are about 20 times lower.

LCC industrial unit costs and vacancy factors

estimated repair costssite
Barkston House£1,175£93,635£13,150£15,000£122,96016738879£18
Croydon House£11,700£89,050£24,372£35,000£160,12216523066£61
St Annís Mills£28,800£277,967£87,688£39,200£433,6553431933£238

These are the Council's own estimates for basic "no frills" repairs. The proposal is to spend about £917/sqm on St Ann's Mills, converting them to luxury serviced offices, work that does not need doing. The vacancy factor at St Ann's Mills is now much larger than shown in the table above.

You can download a complete table of the Council's industrial sites. Why is the Council investing public money in the hideously expensive St Ann's Mills (for which there are excellent low-cost alternative uses) when it has numerous modern, vacant units, DDA compliant, easily subdivided, secure, fireproof, with a goods lift and a concierge, that could be refurbished for a fraction of the price?

Several other issues have been raised with the auditors, some of which may be addressed in their published report.

What would be the rents in the new development?

Careful reading of the December 2004 report to the Executive Board reveals that rents would have to rise up to twelve times in order to pay for the scheme, unless the Council secures some substantial additional subsidy from public funds. (This was the reason for the Council's hasty application to Yorkshire Forward in March 2005.) Many existing tenants would find it very difficult to afford such an increase. The figure was not explicitly stated in the report, and it is doubtful that the Executive Board realised the implications of their decision, since it requires a detailed knowledge of the floor areas and vacancy factors for these buildings to deduce what is going on. Essentially, the Council's proposals involve converting these historic industrial buildings into high-class serviced offices, where the Council intends to charge city-centre rents.

Paragraph 2.5 in the December 2004 report to the Executive Board only gives half the story. I have added the missing information in red:

buildingtotal floor area
square metres
floor area let
square metres
annual rent per
square metre
Abbey Mills266137%985£21,520£21.86
St Annís Mills213283%1770£20,500£11.58

Figures for St Ann's Mills are correct for December 2004, before the departure of Arteeco.

The proposed redevelopment will not consist of small industrial units (SIUs) for poor struggling starter companies, but luxury riverside offices suitable for corporate clients. This can be deduced from the expected rental income calculated at paragraph 6.4 in the December 2004 report to the Executive Board.

St Annís Millsusable floor area sqmrent rollcost / sqm
at present2132£20,500£12

There is no budget to refurbish several poor quality outbuildings at St Annís Mills, and this would not be a cost-effective solution, so the Development officersí proposal at paragraph 4.3 is to demolish them. The total floor area would therefore fall on redevelopment. Even if these outbuildings were retained, the average rent would still rise by a factor of ten. It is very unlikely that our existing industrial tenants could afford these luxury office prices.

Development officers know that our existing tenants at Abbey Mills are very unlikely to move to St Annís Mills and are currently applying to Yorkshire Forward to fund another, high value, incompatible use.

Is the Council's publicity brochure accurate?

The brochure claims in the opening paragraph that "it is unlikely that there will be enough money to pay for the refurbishment of these buildings". At the time that the issue was reported to the Executive Board in December 2004, there was adequate money in the normal maintenance budget to deal with all the essential repairs to the tenanted buildings: the leaking roof, fire precautions, disability discrimination and essential health & safety works. The costs were inflated by double counting and a perverse subdivision of the building, and by including non-essential work and forward maintenance over the next 25 years. These loadings were not applied to any other industrial building in the Council's ownership. The Council could not afford refurbish these buildings in city-centre office style, but such extravagance is not necessary for these historic mills to remain in beneficial use.

The Council's surveyors did not consider these buildings to be in poor condition. The overall condition of the buildings was rated Grade "B" - satisfactory. Performing as intended but exhibiting minor deterioration. Requires minor improvements to comply with DDA. What is more, the surveyors were told to work within the existing layout, but there is a much more sensible and economical way to subdivide these buildings. The surveyors and wrote in relation to Abbey Mills: "As a proposal for redevelopment/re-use in the long-term, we would suggest that the units are retained and not demolished (with the exception of those existing dilapidated units). Their size and layout could offer potential for housing/flat conversion, however, we feel that refurbishment towards office and light industrial use would offer a greater return on rental income against expenditure on maintenance and refurbishment."

Why was the surveyors' professional opinion omitted from Council reports and publicity brochures?

Abbey Mills plan showing the building surveyors' ratings

You could examine the building surveys under the Freedom of Information Act, but be aware that the survey itself is about 500 pages, with another 500 for appendices. You might do better asking for the Executive Summary!

The Council's brochure suggests that any shortfall reflects our priority for social services and schools. This is nonsense. Most of the problems with these buildings reflect plain bad management, although we might argue about who was responsible for this. For example, the Council failed to negotiate a secure lease with the printing company "Chromogene", who occupied a substantial part of Abbey Mills for many years. Chromogene were under no obligation to restore the building when they departed around 2003, so the Council was left with a significant repair and redecoration bill.

It is plainly desirable that Council publicity should be accurate and unbiased. There is government guidance to this effect issued by both Conservative and Labour governments in recent years. The Council's consultation brochure seems designed to have a persuasive effect, seeking public support for the Council's scheme. It omits considerable information on the disadvantages of the proposals, which might otherwise cause the public to oppose the scheme. The government guidance on these points is particularly clear:

 12. Any publicity describing the council's policies and aims should be as objective as possible, concentrating on facts or explanation or both.  
 16. Publicity touching on issues that are controversial, or on which there are arguments for and against the views or policies of the council, should be handled with particular care. It should not over-simplify facts, issues or arguments. Again, it is unlikely that slogans alone will achieve the necessary degree of balance, or capture the complexities of opposing political arguments.  
 19. Legitimate concern is, however, caused by the use of public resources for some forms of campaigns which are designed to have a persuasive effect. Publicity campaigns can provide an appropriate means of ensuring that the local community is properly informed about a matter relating to a function of the local authority and about the authority's policies in relation to that function and the reasons for them. But local authorities, like other public authorities, should not use public funds to mount publicity campaigns whose primary purpose is to persuade the public to hold a particular view on a question of policy.  
 21. Information and publicity produced by the council should be made available to all those who want or need it. Local authorities should not discriminate in favour of, or against, persons or groups in the compilation and distribution of material for reasons not connected with the efficiency and effectiveness of issuing the publicity.  
 24. Publicity that reaches the public unsolicited should be targeted as far as practicable on those whose interests are clearly and directly affected by its content.  
 25. Material touching on politically controversial issues should be distributed unsolicited only where there is a strong case for letting a particular group of people have information of direct concern to them and no other equally efficient and effective means can be found.  
 26. Local authority newspapers or information bulletins are a special case. They are often a cost-effective means of disseminating information, but they may touch on controversial issues. If they do, they should treat such issues in an objective and informative way, bearing in mind the principles set out in paragraphs 11 -19 of the Code.  
 27. Where it is important for information to reach a particular target audience, consideration should be given to using the communications networks of other bodies, for example those of voluntary organisations.  

Are there any other errors in the Council's brochure?

It is full of them. Almost every line has something wrong with it, as set out in the tables below:

Inaccuracies in the first inside page:

Council statementActual position
Abbey Mills: ...To provide modern industrial accommodation the buildings would require significant alteration at a substantial cost.Relatively minor expenditure would allow the present tenants to remain, because they do not require "modern industrial accommodation". In any case the Council scheme provides very limited industrial accommodation at either site. Officers want to convert most of the buildings remaining in Council ownership into "serviced offices" that can be let at much higher rents than industrial property. It would also be possible to do this at Abbey Mills.
St Ann's Mills: ... However, it is not a listed building... The surviving parts of St Ann's Mills and Abbey Mills are almost same age, and a listing application (4MB file) has been submitted to the Secretary of State.
Leeds City Council is proposing to sell Abbey Mills for refurbishment. This should ensure that it is restored to a high standard and that this listed building is preserved.Among the listed features at Abbey Mills are the small or blocked-off windows. It is difficult to see how this feature can survive a residential conversion. One of the listed buildings must be demolished to provide additional vehicular access. The oldest and most historically valuable buildings have been vacant for many years, as a result of the Council's previous neglect. There is every possibility that a developer will plead that these are "too far gone" to restore, and that the Council will quietly agree to a demolition request after all the fuss has died down.
Secondly it is proposed that St Ann's Mills is retained by the council and refurbished to provide high quality managed workspace for start up and small businesses. ... The displaced tenants from Abbey Mills would be rehoused in the refurbished St Ann's Mills complex.This is incompatible with the report and minutes of the Executive Board on 15 December 2004, which refer to "industrial units" rather than "high quality managed workspace". This really means "serviced offices". Existing tenants from Abbey Mills could not afford to pay the enormous rents required to finance the current scheme. The original decision not to consult fully on St Annís Mills was based on the premise that there would be no new build and no change in use. Additional building and a highly controversial planning application are now required.
Thirdly as a part of any scheme it is proposed to improve the immediate area and riverside walk at both sites. The views of the community in Kirkstall will play an important part in deciding the nature of these improvements.The views of the Kirkstall community are important for the entire scheme, but the scope for any public input will be greatly diminished by the need for new buildings at St Ann's Mills, and Council's failure to supply accurate information. Works at Abbey Mills would be a hidden subsidy to the developer.
The refurbishment of St Ann's Mills would also mean that the site continues to provide affordable workspace for small local businesses.The intention is to raise the rent levels in the refurbished building far beyond the means of many small local businesses.

Inaccuracies in the Questions and Answers page:

...about the proposals

Council questionCouncil answerActual position
What about the impact on traffic on the A65, Kirkstall Road?Consideration will have to be given to any impact the development may have on traffic flows along Kirkstall Road. Improved access to the site and highway improvements may be required as part of the development scheme.None of the development schemes presently being considered for Abbey Mills can meet current highway safety standards. The new junction would be on the inside of a blind corner, where it is geometrically impossible to achieve the minimum sight lines and "junction stagger" without closing streets in the "Normans" and major civil engineering works.
Do you intend to build bridges across the river?One possibility, depending on consultation with ward councillors and the local community, is to provide footbridges across the river in order to extend the riverside walk. There are no proposals to build a vehicular bridge across the river.A major survey of the area around Abbey Mills by an unknown property developer in 2003 was probably conducted with new road bridges in view. Leeds City Council officers in private meetings have previously supported a road bridge across the mill goit, to link Abbey Mills to the neighbouring Allder's (now British Home Stores) site. The Kirkstall Ward councillors were approached in March 2005 by a property developer who wishes to construct a road bridge to gain access to the BHS site. This would have major effects on traffic flows and the local environment. In the future the bridge scheme could easily be resurrected once the mill building is in private hands and outside the Council's control. This proposal could be difficult to resist if a new access road had already been constructed at this point.
Are there any alternative proposals for these sites?Although other ideas have been put forward the plans for St Annís and Abbey Mills are currently the only firm proposals that meet the councilís objectives for employment, regeneration and fundability.There are several entirely viable alternative schemes for these buildings, but the Council's officers have made little attempt to put them before the public.

...about Abbey Mills

Council questionCouncil answerActual position
If the site is already in industrial use, why can't this continue?For Abbey Mills to continue to meet the requirements of modern industrial businesses the building would need substantial alteration. Alterations would be difficult to carry out because the building is listed. Even it were to be altered, because the building has a complex multi-storey layout, access would remain far from ideal.There is no need for extensive alterations at Abbey Mills, and no need to meet the requirements of modern industrial businesses. Relatively minor adaptations could provide disabled access and improved fire safety. It is entirely possible for the existing tenants, or new tenants, to occupy these buildings without major alterations.
What future uses are there for Abbey Mills?The site could continue to be used for industrial use, offices, or a mix of uses (part housing, part industrial/office). Conservation experts advise that housing offers the best opportunity of converting and preserving the listed building and securing its long-term future. A non-commercial use is also more in keeping with the nearby residential area and leisure and recreational uses associated with the adjoining Kirkstall Abbey.I am not aware of any written report to support the statement about housing conversion. There is no mention of countervailing policies in the adopted development plan. This is a listed industrial building. It is Council policy to support mixed use developments, for example at the nearby Kirkstall Forge, so the statement about non-commercial uses being "more in keeping" is not currently Council policy. The present uses are entirely compatible with the neighbouring sites.
Do you propose to build in the adjoining Kirkstall Abbey park?No. The proposal for Abbey Mills is contained within the legal boundaries of the Abbey Mills site and does not encroach upon Kirkstall Abbey park.The reference to "legal boundaries" will mislead the public, who may not immediately realise that Abbey Villa is considered part of the development site. The intention is to construct a large and highly visible access road through the garden of Abbey Villa, with demolition of the existing garden wall, major earthworks and extensive tree felling. The visibility splays will impact on Kirkstall Abbey Park.
Do you propose to build in the garden of the adjoining Abbey Villas?No. There are no proposals to build in the garden area. However, if a new access is required to Abbey Mills it may pass through the bottom of the Abbey Villas site.The new access road through the garden of Abbey Villa would occupy a large proportion of the site, look hideous and damage the local environment. The reference to "building" will mislead the public.
Would Abbey Villas House be sold as part of the scheme?No. The council has no proposals to sell Abbey Villas.Sale of Abbey Villa, and building in the garden, were included in the valuation given to the Executive Board in December 2004. It is good that both have been abandoned, but this will knock a £650,000 hole in the financial plans.
What will happen to all the trees?A detailed tree survey has been undertaken to make sure that as many trees as possible will be preserved. Although some trees may be lost this would be kept to a minimum and lost trees would be replaced elsewhere on the site, by a tree-planting scheme.A major loss of attractive mature trees surrounding Abbey Villa would be needed for highway construction and visibility splays. It will take 50 years for any replacement trees to reach maturity. This site is on the border of Kirkstall Abbey Park. Kirkstall Abbey is a scheduled Ancient Monument.

...about St Ann's Mills

Council questionCouncil answerActual position
Why does the council provide business accommodation?Small businesses can find it very difficult to find suitable premises. Around 80% of businesses in Leeds employ fewer than 10 people and they make an important contribution to the city's economy, providing around 62,000 jobs. We want to upgrade the units at St Ann's Mills to benefit new and small businesses because it is important that these facilities are provided in all areas of the city.The Council is a relatively inefficient and expensive provider of business accommodation when compared with the private sector, and relies on hidden public subsidies to achieve competitive prices. Development officers are trying to replace their industrial accommodation, which is sometimes scarce, with more more lucrative serviced offices, where there are many alternative providers. The Council owns several other sites (for example, Barkston House and Croydon House within the Domestic Street complex) that are more suitable for the proposed activities, but these units could also be constructed at Abbey Mills.
Do you intend to build on the land to the rear of St Ann's Mills building?No. The council does not intend to build on this land as part of this proposal.This is progress, which was only achieved because of local opposition. Note the get-out clause: "...as part of this proposal." Remember the security fence to exclude the public in the drawing above. Riverside office building within the designated flood plain would be contrary to the Council's Unitary Development Plan, but this idea was actively argued with the Environment Agency by LCC Development officers up to December 2004. Click here for details of this scheme. There is no guarantee that these proposals will not resurface in the future.

The back page from the Council brochure

The Council's brochure is undated, and there is no indication of the starting and closing dates for the consultation. The questionnaire is not presently available to the public, thereby preventing any answers from people who have heard both sides of the story. It is very difficult (if not impossible) to submit an electronic response, despite the imaginative, but somewhat exaggerated, assertions made in the Council's "Implementing Electronic Government" statement 2005. The Council claims to have largely implemented electronic government, which may be true for large corporate customers, but its electronic interaction with the general public is way below targets. Pants on fire, LCC!

Why weren't the local councillors involved?

The Kirkstall councillors have taken a keen interest in both sites. We were briefed three times in 2004, and also in 2005. However, since it became apparent that serious disagreement was likely, the Council's shutters have come down, and officers simply refused to show us their draft consultation brochure and the questionnaire for the current survey. This eventually resulted in the Council's first "Access to Information" Appeal since 1987. The Appeal Panel decided that the draft brochure and questionnaire should have been discussed with the Kirkstall councillors, but they took so long to reach this decision that the Council's "survey" had already been completed before they granted access. The Panel refused to give access to the plans for St Ann's Mills, and this is likely to result in a further appeal, in relation to a Scrutiny hearing.

Leeds City Council's Access to Information Appeal procedure is bizarre: the relevant officer defends their decision to refuse access at a private audience with the Appeal Panel, from which the appellant is excluded. Although this was intended to be an opportunity for the Panel to view the secret information, but there seems to be nothing to prevent the defendant advancing arguments or giving evidence in private that the appellant cannot hear, or challenge. In the public case presented by the Council, there is no suggestion that the requested information was truly confidential or "exempt", the documents were only retained to prevent effective criticism of the Council's policies.

The Council does not publish the appellant's arguments, only its own, but you can download my submission here.

What was in the Council's questionnaire?

Here is page one. Notice the false assurance of confidentiality given to the respondents. If the Council's market research consultants had studied the extensive legal advice from the Treasury Solicitor available through the Cabinet Office website, they would have realised that they were unable to guarantee that responses would not be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Here is page two. Notice the way in which the questionnaire attempts to bypass the normal political processes, and seeks a direct endorsement of the officers' actions from a sample of the electorate, carefully chosen to isolate them from a conventional political debate.

I first received a copy of the authentic questionnaire on 10 February 2006, because the Council's officers previously would not give me one. The questions were as follows. Apart from the last one, these were all answered by ticking boxes on a five-point scale.

  1. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the historic buildings at both sites are fully restored and preserved?
  2. To what extent do you agree or disagree that redevelopment proposals should retain workspace for small businesses within the area?
  3. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the council's preference to locate the workspace at St Ann's Mills?
  4. On a scale of 1 to 5 how much do you think the plans affect you personally? (1 being not at all, 5 being effects you considerably)
  5. On a scale of 1 to 5 how concerned are you about the council's proposals for the area? (1 being not at all concerned, 5 being very concerned)
  6. To what extent do you agree or disagree that it is important that residents are able to influence environmental improvements to the area around the mills and how the riverside walk is extended?
  7. Taking into consideration why the council favours this proposal and the substantial cost of refurbishing these two buildings, do you have any other suggestions for the development of the mill buildings?

The questionnaire is biased, and contains leading questions that will steer respondents in particular directions. All of those responding would have heard only the Council officers' case. In relation to question 1, the Council is not actually proposing that these historic buildings should be "fully restored and preserved". It has embarked upon a deeply flawed redevelopment scheme behind closed doors that could damage them for ever. It is difficult to answer the questions without appearing to support the Development officers' proposals. It does not seem to be the Council's intention to make any of the responses attributable to particular individuals, although this is required by law and is an important safeguard against malpractice.

Although in theory other members of the public could (with some effort) obtain copies of the publicity brochure, and submit written responses, they would not be able to obtain copies of the official questionnaire. These were individually numbered to prevent any "contamination" of the market research sample by anybody with access to both sides of the argument. Any contributions from the concerned public will be swamped by 1000 professionally canvassed responses to the "official" questionnaire. Assuming that this sample was randomly distributed across Kirkstall ward (we don't know this for sure, because the addresses have not been disclosed) the "official" statistics will be dominated by those individuals with least knowledge of these complex issues, and living furthest from the mills.

Road Safety

The existing entrance to Abbey Mills has been in use for about 200 years. It is somewhat inconvenient, however visibility is actually very good for the moving traffic streams and vehicle speeds are generally low, so there are no recorded accidents. Nearby traffic signals interrupt the traffic, and access is adequate for the small number of vehicle movements associated with industrial use. Residential conversion would considerably increase the traffic flow, and it is argued that an additional entrance is required.

Looking South from the existing access, 8:39am 20 March 2006

Unfortunately, Abbey Mills is located on the inside of a left hand bend in the A65, and visibility is severely restricted, both by the bend and by the mill buildings themselves. Various alignments have been considered for the new access road, initially along a cart track on the boundary of Kirkstall Abbey Park, and later through the garden of Abbey Villa. Either route would require the demolition of some of the listed buildings in Abbey Mills. The problem facing the highway engineer is that any movement towards the mill cannot achieve the minimum sight lines for approaching traffic, whereas movement towards the park would inevitably impact on the park and lead to the involvement of English Heritage. (There is a dispute about the sight lines: the Leeds City Council engineers say that 90 metre sight lines will be adequate, but the Department for Transport in London say that 120 metre sight lines are required on such a busy road - see below.) The land slopes steeply down to the mill goit, and this exacerbates the visibility problems. All possible alignments require extensive earthworks, demolition of the garden wall at Abbey Villa, and the felling of many mature trees in an otherwise attractive location. No alignment can achieve the correct "junction stagger" (45 - 50m) with opposing streets such as Norman Row. It is impossible to comply with either local or national road safety guidelines, which in these respects are congruent.

Leeds City Council's local highway guidance is being revised, and is only available on paper. However it is very similar to local guidance from other councils, and also to the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) which is the British traffic engineer's bible. Strictly speaking, DMRB only applies to motorways and trunk roads, but in practice Planning Policy Guidance No. 13 (PPG13) and local highway guidance have followed it very closely. The relevant information is in DMRB volume 6 section 2 part 6a "The Geometric Design of Major/Minor Priority Junctions" otherwise known as TD 42/95. Strictly speaking, the A65 is not a trunk road outside Abbey Mills, however the Annual Average Daily Traffic flow (AADT) of 23,824 vehicle movements per day exceeds many trunk roads. In terms of the national road safety guidance in DMRB, Abbey Mills is "off the scale" - there is too much traffic on the A65 for simple junctions of the proposed type. If Abbey Mills were in private hands, the Council would be very reluctant to allow any new vehicle access to be created at this dangerous location.

DMRB figure 2/2: Approximate Level of Provision of T-junctions on New Single Carriageway Roads for Various Major and Minor Road Design Year Traffic Flows (paras 2.2, 2.14)

The relevant information from the Council's local highway guidance is in table 4 on page 9 of the printed version. The recommendations closely follow DMRB, but do not really envisage this type of access road being connected at such a busy and dangerous location. There is similar guidance on page 58 of "Places, Streets and Movements" (ISBN 1 85112 113 7) which is the latest Government update of Design Bulletin 32 on Residential Roads and Footpaths.

Although there are problems with speeding vehicles off-peak, the road ouside Abbey Mills is heavily congested during the morning and evening rush hours. Inbound standing traffic forms into two queues, making it extremely difficult and dangerous to turn right out of the proposed access. It is equally dangerous to go straight across, although the temptation for drivers will always be there because we cannot achieve the recommended junction stagger. Even turning left it is difficult to see traffic approaching from the right.

Looking south from the proposed access, 8:32am 20 March 2006

It has been suggested that this situation might be eased by the introduction of pedestrian refuges, and a bus gate near DeLacy Mount, as part of the A65 Quality Bus Initiative. This should at least prevent inbound vehicles forming two parallel queues and encroaching into the cycle lane as they do at present. These queues cannot be completely abolished, however, because the efficient operation of the main Kirkstall traffic signals requires a store of vehicles on Abbey Road, quickly available to move forwards when the signals are at green. Moreover, if the A65 queue is very short, drivers queuing on Morris Lane will see that Abbey Road is clear, and they will "rat run" through the Normans to by-pass the bus gate near DeLacy Mount. This doesn't happen much at present, because there is little advantage in leaving one queue to join another, but we expect this to be a serious problem when the bus scheme is in operation. It will almost certainly lead to conflict with vehicles entering and leaving Abbey Mills via the proposed access road.

More on sight lines

While accepting the need for a right hand visibility splay, the Council is anxious to avoid creating one to the left of the new access road. This would require alterations to Kirkstall Abbey Park, and the partial removal of the boundary wall and trees, leading inevitably to the involvement of English Heritage, and causing considerable delay. This may explain why officers have moved the access road from its original route along the historic cart track between Abbey Villa and Kirkstall Abbey Park to its current location across the garden. The Council's own internal memoranda and site survey data show that the cart track was initially the preferred location. LCC officers now argue that no visibility splay is needed on the left, because a new pedestrian island on Abbey Road will prevent overtaking manoeuvres, so the 90m left hand sight line can be measured to the centre line of the A65 rather than the kerb. This would avoid any alteration to Kirkstall Abbey Park. They claim that this interpretation is supported by recent Planning Appeal Decisions, although they have not as yet identified the relevant cases.

Junction geometry recommended by the "Design Manual for Roads & Bridges" (TD42/95)

An official working for the Department for Transport in London has advised me that Abbey Road should be classed as a primary distributor under para 1.8 of TD9/93 Highway Link Design. He adds that: "This would impose a design speed of 70A kph, regardless of whether the speed limit is 30 or 40mph. A visibility splay Y distance of 120m rather than the 90m shown on the drawing that you supplied would be required." He added: "TD41 gives further advice and requirements on avoiding crossroad situations (para 2.4) and bends (para 2.11) as well as other matters. A crossroads is not a junction type that would be acceptable under TD42. Although departures from standards can be agreed in exceptional circumstances, it seems unlikely that the proposal you have described would be acceptable on a trunk road." Abbey Road is NOT a trunk road, nor is it part of the "primary route network" but it is nevertheless a major public transport corridor, and the daily traffic flows exceed many trunk road totals.

parameterrecommendedactual valuecomments
daily traffic flow (AADT)less than 18,000 per day24,000 two way25% over the limit for simple junction designs
sight lines "x" distance9 metres2.4 metresdouble relaxation taken
sight lines "y" value right120 metres90 metresno relaxation available
sight lines "y" value left120 metresnot providedno relaxation available
minor road view from 15m~90 degrees~45 degreesnearby junctions are not visible: fails test
through lane widths3.0 - 3.65m3.25mOK
right turning lane width3.0 - 3.65m1.8mthe absolute minimum is 2.5 metres
right turning lane length50m10mgeometrically impossible to achieve the target
cycle lane width1.8m1.2msub-standard
junction stagger50 metres5-10 metrescannot achieve the required standard
cross road intersectionnot allowedunavoidablealmost impossible to prevent this manoeuvre
minor road gradient1:501:10compliance requires a large ramp in front of Abbey Villa

Sight lines are presently measured from the back of the footway, about 2.4 metres from the kerb. This is the bare minimum that is permitted. The local and national safety recommendation is that sight lines should be measured 9 metres back from the kerb, but this more onerous requirement would be difficult to achieve on Abbey Road. Highway engineers are therefore allowed a "relaxation" down to 4.5 metres for "lightly trafficked simple junctions". In the present case, where traffic is often heavy and fast moving, and visibility is exceptionally poor, they have taken a double relaxation down to 2.4 metres, despite the fact that the sight lines themselves are 30 metres short (right) or non-existent (left) and Abbey Road traffic levels are 25% over the limit for junctions of this type.

Would the Council be liable for any accidents?

Local Highway Authorities are required to maintain the highway, but there are legal limits to their responsibilities. The Council does not intend to adopt the new access road, which may allow its construction to a lower standard. However, in the case of Kane v. New Forest District Council the Court of Appeal ruled in 2001 that the local highway authority were responsible for an accident where a pedestrian was injured through inadequate sight lines.

Environmental Damage

It is important to recognise the visual impact of the road scheme at Abbey Mills and Abbey Villa, the loss of mature trees, and the increase in risky vehicle movements. At peak times there is standing traffic through the proposed junction on Abbey Road, but off-peak vehicle speeds are sometimes dangerously high. Urban cross road intersections on busy main roads are well known to have poor accident records, which is why both the national and local road safety guidance require staggered "T" junctions instead of cross roads. The required stagger cannot be achieved at this location. It is therefore likely that this scheme will eventually be re-designed with an even bigger environmental impact that first admitted. The is exactly what has happened at the main Kirkstall traffic signals at the nearby intersection of Kirkstall Lane and Abbey Road. There Council agreed to the developers' original proposal in 1994 without conducting a full safety audit, and were subsequently required to build a scheme that was known to be unsafe. Quite predictably it had a poor accident record, and is now being redesigned for about the fifth time.

Trees in the garden of Abbey Villa which would be destroyed by the new access road

It is difficult to assess the direct environmental damage that will result from the St Ann's Mills proposals because the Council will not release the drawings. However, early designs for a security fence were so awful that they were immediately rejected by the Kirkstall councillors. The Council's present silence speaks far louder than showing us the plans!

Office development at St Ann's Mills would severely damage the new Kirkstall Valley Park (KVP). This mill complex was originally purchased by the Council to provide public open space, and was only "temporarily" diverted into employment uses. It would form an integral part of the new park, where it occupies a beautiful riverside location, which has suffered only superficial damage through the Council's mismanagement. The KVP Trustees' preferred plan is to refurbish St Annís Mills as part of a self-financing community punishment and training scheme in partnership with the Probation Service, and possibly also with the Prison Service, depending on the outcome of future Home Office reorganisation. The mill would be used initially for re-training of minor offenders and as the construction base for the remainder of the Park. It would ultimately serve as a new home for Leeds Canoe Club and a new inner-city white water canoe training course, as a visitor / interpretation centre for the Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve (as originally envisaged in plans agreed by both Leeds City Council and the Leeds Development Corporation) and as a base for other local community groups. All of this highly innovative scheme would be put at risk by the Council's proposals.

Trojan Horse?

In October / November 2003 a team of surveyors from Survey Operations Ltd, Skelmersdale, Lancashire, prepared a detailed survey of the Allders (now British Home Stores) site. Peter Lowe, who runs the Abbey Light Railway, has described this operation in his own words:

"The survey covered the entire length of the railway up to Clough House in the Abbey Grounds. It extended to the South of Bridge Road towards the Morrisons site. It extended over the mill race into the Abbey Mills site. The surveyors were waiting for a boat to survey the River Aire to the west side of Allders, depthing the River etc..."

Click here to download a copy of the job sheet for this week-long surveying exercise. Peter, who is an experienced engineer, concluded that the Survey Operations' client envisaged bridging both the main river and the mill goit to facilitate road access to and from the Allders site, and also to gain access to the green belt land to the West of the River Aire that is currently used for rugby pitches. This is similar to an earlier proposal from the Provident Mutual insurance company when they first acquired the freehold from British Rail. It was decisively rejected when the Leeds Unitary Development Plan was adopted in 2001, but no planning decision is ever permanent.

The Council's planning officers have also discussed a road bridge over Abbey Mill goit. Internal minutes for a meeting that was probably held on 24 March 2004 record as follows, in relation to Abbey Mills:

"Paul would like to see some linkage with the Allders redevelopment and is in favour of a vehicular and or pedestrian link across the river from the site. He has asked John, to look at interrelationship between the two proposals with Tony Clegg in Planning who is dealing with the Allders application."

Click here to download a copy of the complete briefing document. Although dated 24 April 2004, the dates on these papers are not internally consistent, and it seems more likely to have been in March. Bridging the goit is not part of the Council's current proposals. The scheme might, however, be resurrected after the buildings are in private hands.

In February 2005, Paul Caddick (Chairman of Leeds Rugby) requested a meeting with the Kirkstall councillors and planning officers. This meeting took place on 2 March 2005 in the Council's "Leonardo" building. You can download the agenda that Mr Caddick prepared and circulated before this meeting.

In essence, Mr Caddick proposed relinquishing the lease on the Rugby Academy pitches next to Morrison's supermarket off Savin's Mill Way. [There is an existing proposal to relocate the rugby operation from Kirkstall to Bramhope.] This would make it possible to concentrate all the local retail activity onto the Morrison's site. British Home Stores would relocate from their present site north of Bridge Road, which could then be developed for housing. A new bridge over the River Aire from the BHS site would provide road access to a new railway station near the existing Kirkstall Bridge. Bridge Road is extremely busy and congested and the existing road junctions are very close together. This makes it almost impossible to construct a direct road access to the proposed railway station from the existing highway network.

The Kirkstall members were not happy with these proposals, because (among other things) they would lead to a further loss of scarce inner-city playing fields. When the Wm Morrison supermarket received planning consent, the land at Bridge Road presently occupied by the Rugby Academy was allocated for use by local amateur rugby teams. The new bridge over the River Aire from the BHS site would inevitably result in pressure to develop the green belt land to the West of Kirkstall Abbey (which is also currently used for rugby pitches) as originally proposed by Provident Mutual. Seen from a narrow commercial viewpoint, however, there might be logic to a scheme that would concentrate all the retail activity onto the Morrisons site, destroying the Rugby Academy pitches to the south of Bridge Road, while developing the BHS site for housing.

Bridge Road is gridlocked at peak times, so the scheme promoted by Mr Caddick would require new access roads from the A65 to the rear of the Morrisons site through St Ann's Mills, and another new road through the garden of Abbey Villa, a bridge across the mill goit, and another bridge across the main river to access a new Kirkstall railway station. The road through Abbey Villa to the BHS site is essentially the scheme (described above) that had previously been surveyed in November 2003. Mr Caddick made no secret of his desire to acquire land near Abbey Mills and Abbey Villa in order to construct this new road. He said the overall development could be worth about £40,000,000. This sounds about right, considering the land values and site areas.

You can download my interpretation of the roads required for Mr Caddick's proposals. They are marked in purple on the plan, as Route A through Abbey Mills and Route B through St Ann's Mills. If I have got this wrong then I am sure he will correct me. The road through St Ann's Mills would require a strengthened bridge over the mill goit, as already envisaged in section 4 of the December 2004 report to the Executive Board.

The Council has received several unsolicited approaches to purchase Abbey Mills, which are recorded at paragraph 3.6.1 and paragraph 7.2 in the December 2004 Report to the Executive Board. I therefore asked the Council's officers who had made these approaches and what they wanted to do, but I have received no useful response to these inquiries. I have therefore submitted another Appeal against Refusal of Access to Information, in an attempt to see these hidden documents. Mr Caddick also told us that Wm Morrison Supermarkets were very keen to extend their retail operations onto the Leeds Rugby pitches near Bridge Road, so I have also asked to see details of the Council's correspondence with Morrisons over the last five years under the Freedom of Information Act. The Council doesn't seem to want to discuss this issue either.

Whether or not residents consider that Mr Caddick's plan is a good idea, one side effect of the Council's scheme for the Kirkstall mills would be to bring Mr Caddick's vision considerably closer. Before "buying a pig in a poke" and approving a scheme for St Ann's Mills that the Council will not show them, residents should consider the long term consequences of these actions for traffic flows, recreation, and the local environment.

How did Leeds City Council acquire these mills?

They were both bought around 1970 by the old Leeds County Borough, together with the surrounding land. The objective was to create a huge inner-city public park along the Kirkstall riverside - a really wonderful idea, which never came to fruition. The councillors were buying land throughout the inner-city to create more recreational open space. Their 1972 Development Plan Review looks modern, even today.

Download the St Ann's Mill purchase documents   1965   1970a   1970b   showing that the site was originally bought for public open space.

In 1974 Local Government was reorganised, and Leeds more than doubled in size, swallowing all the surrounding local townships, with very different politics and priorities. This was followed by a Tory landslide, although six years later Labour were back in control. In Town Planning terms this hasn't made a lot of difference. Every one of the post-1974 administrations, including the present Tory - LibDem - Green coalition, have operated an Industry and Estates Department, or Leeds Development Agency, or Development Department, or some similar name, part of whose function has been to asset-strip the Council's land and buildings in order to keep the local taxes down. We have all been very busy "selling off the family silver" as Harold Macmillan once famously remarked.

Leeds is an expanding city where development profits are huge. Leeds City Council has encouraged "infill" development, and sold more land than most. Even now the haemorrhage continues, so that central Leeds now has the worst recreational open space and children's play provision of any major authority in the United Kingdom. Another unwelcome entry for the Guinness Book of Records. A Council survey once tried to boost these embarrassing totals by counting inner-city roundabouts and motorway central reservations as recreational open space! I challenge the Council to name another UK city with worse inner city play provision than Leeds.

When were these buildings constructed?

Abbey Mills dates back to mediaeval times, and the foundation of Kirkstall Abbey. It was sketched by Turner around 1824. A water-powered corn mill, an oil mill and a woollen mill shared the same site: an explosive combination of flour dust, vegetable oil and wool grease that repeatedly burned to the ground. It last caught fire badly in 1829 and some of the surviving buildings date from the 1830's, although construction and re-building continued throughout the 19th century. It is a Grade 2 listed building.

St Ann's Mills was founded as a water mill around 1775, but the surviving buildings are roughly the same age as Abbey Mills, and were one of the first "purpose-built" steam-powered mills in Leeds. Kirkstall had several water mills because it is located on an old glacial moraine, and the River Aire falls quite steeply around this point. It was an obvious place to develop water power, and played a major role in the industrial revolution. St Ann's Mills is not presently listed, but I have submitted a listing application to the Secretary of State.

Under construction

This site is still under construction, and must react to a constantly changing situation. I am working as fast as I can!

Who has written it?

This site has been written and promoted by Councillor John Illingworth, 37 Kirkwood Way, Leeds LS16 7EU. Telephone 0113 2673735 Email: john.illingworth@leeds.gov.uk. I have represented Kirkstall Ward on Leeds City Council since 1979. The Kirkstall Mills saga has been such a shambles that it merits a special website all to itself. There is also a Kirkstall Councillors' Home Page which deals with many other important issues in Kirkstall Ward.

Brief summary
St Ann's Mills
Executive Board