Development Proposals at St Ann's Mills?

The Council will not reveal its current plans for St Ann's Mills, however we can get some clues from earlier schemes.

When reading this account, please remember that we are dealing with a management structure. Somebody was responsible for all these decisions, but not necessarily the people named in the documents, who may only have been following instructions. Much of this material can now be obtained from the Council, and the Environment Agency, under the Freedom of Information Act (2000) if anybody wishes to verify my account.


Leeds City bought St Ann's Mills in 1970 for Public Open Space. Continuing industrial use was intended to be only temporary, until land assembly was complete. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the old Leeds County Borough gradually purchased huge swathes of land along the Kirkstall riverside, stretching from Kirkstall Abbey to Burley Mills, with the intention of creating a new riverside park. The site is shown as public open space / playing fields (POS/PF) in the 1972 Development Plan Review.

Land allocations in the 1972 Development Plan Review

This imaginative plan was progressively watered down after local government reorganisation in 1974. Leeds swallowed all the surrounding towns and cities and approximately doubled in size. This produced a massive shift in political power, not only between the political parties, but also between the inner city and the outer areas. The new Leeds City Council has gradually sold large areas of inner city public open space to developers in order to keep local taxes down.

St Ann's Mills was founded as a water mill about 1775 and the ruins are still visible today. The present building was constructed around 1830 and was among the first "pupose built" steam-powered mills in Leeds. It has beautiful stone-flagged floors and employs the "fireproof brick arch" construction that was widely used for early nineteenth century textile mills, but the pitched roof was badly damaged by fire in 1975, and the Council made a most unsatisfactory repair.

St Ann's Mills as it was in 1970

From 1988 to 1995 St Ann's Mills lay within the area administered by the Leeds Development Corporation (a non-elected government "QUANGO") and it consequently appears as "white" land (no specific allocation) in the Leeds Unitary Development Plan 2001. This allocation was challenged by local residents who wanted to include St Ann's Mills within a green belt area extending down to Armley Mills. Kirkstall Valley became sub judice when the planning consent for the neighbouring Morrisons supermarket was challenged by Judicial Review during 1995 and 1996 so these issues were not debated at the Public Inquiry into the UDP. The matter was not revisited during the recent UDP review.

The main building was rented by a metal working company and the outbuildings were leased to a variety of small businesses, including a skip hire company. Most of the property was let on "full repairing leases" but the Council rarely enforced the lease conditions, so the tenants made very few repairs. The Council demolished the weaving sheds in the early 1990's. There is a significant amount of fly-tipping, demolition rubble and general building waste contaminating the surrounding land.

Activity behind the scenes...

The Council officers' intention to develop Abbey Mills for housing dates from May 2003, before any survey work had been undertaken on the Council's Industrial Portfolio. Initially there was no direct linkage between Abbey Mills and St Ann's Mills. Click here to download the initial appraisal report on Abbey Mills. Leeds City Council officers believe that this report was commissioned by Janet Moss when she was Head of Service, and written by Martin Blackett, but both these individuals have subsequently left the Council so this is difficult to check. It was not seen by elected members, but seems to have established the Council's policy in this area. It is clear from this report that industrial use could have continued at Abbey Mills, but officers saw an opportunity for a capital receipt, despite the access and listed building problems that were identified at an early stage.

In August 2003 the Council completed a building condition survey at St Ann's Mills which identified a variety of repairs, totalling 433655. This work was described as "backlog" maintenance in the December 2004 report to the Executive Board. This term is very misleading, since the work was classified as 28,800 "imminent", 277,967 "essential" (mostly re-wiring), 87,688 "desirable" and 39,200 "long term". The Council did not estimate its DDA conversion costs on a consistent basis, and the costs of compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 were probably underestimated at St Ann's Mills.

St Ann's Mills is located in the flood plain of the River Aire (also known as "washland") which is protected from built development by policy N38 in the Leeds Unitary Development Plan (UDP). Policy N38 was extensively amended during the recent UDP review alteration 5/003, however this did not alter its overall effect. Meanwhile, early in 2004 a small group of officers working in private within the Council's Development Department began to challenge the Council's published policies at St Ann's Mills, as explained in detail below. Neither the public nor the elected members initially realised that this was happening. Nothing is "for ever" in politics and every plan is subject to change. But it is disturbing to find a small group of Council officers apparently seeking to undermine the Council's published environmental policies, even while the public exercise of the UDP review was still in progress. It was difficult for anybody to discover that this was going on.

Left click in the image below to toggle between the UDP map and the corresponding key. Click again to return to the map. The washland is marked with horizontal dashed lines, and the Urban Green Corridor (policy N11) with a green polka-dot pattern. Note the situation near St Ann's Mills.

Land allocations in the Leeds Unitary Development Plan 2001

The big development scheme

The Council's Architectural Design Services completed a "concept study" for St Ann's Mills in February 2004. In its original form, this scheme only provided for the relocation of the existing tenants from Abbey Mills into a refurbished St Ann's Mills building. The estimated total cost of the repairs and improvements at St Ann's Mills was 2,741,000 (including fees) which was considerably greater than the Building Surveyors' 2003 estimate of 433,655 mentioned above. It is not clear that all this work was strictly necessary for the intended use. The new estimate exceeded the anticipated capital receipt from Abbey Mills, and officers began to look for alternative plans, including additional building on the site.

The first contact with the Environment Agency was on 3 March 2004, when the Council sent the following email message:

03/03/04 08:11 cc:
Subject: St Ann's Mills, Commercial Road, Kirkstall
Fllood Plain Enquiry

I work for the Development Department at Leeds City Council and we are preparing a feasibility study relating to St Ann's' Mills, Kirkstall, which are situated adjacent to No 110 Commercial Road. The City Council wishes to refurbish the main mill building for employment use, but would also like to investigate the feasibility of developing new small industrial units within the site to maximise its potential to generate employment opportunities in this part of the City.

There is obvious potential relating to unused land to the east of the existing mill building, but we would also like to investigate the possibility of developing the unused area of land between the mill building and the river (as indicated on the attached plan)

I have spoken to colleagues in planning about the potential of this area, and from a land use point of view there are no objections in principle to this part of the site being developed for new employment floorspace

However, I understand that at least part of the site may be in the flood plain area and I would be grateful if you could advise me of any implications that this may have. I understand that this part of the site was occupied by an old mill building, which has been demolished, and the existing tenants have advised that the area did not flood two years ago when other parts of the Kirkstall Valley did.

The land appears to be at the same level as the adjacent Morrison's foodstore, and at a higher level than the playing fields immediately adjacent to the site. I would therefore be very grateful for any advice that you can offer at this stage. Obviously there is a desire to maximise the potential contribution that the site could make to the local economy by generating employment opportunities and we would be happy to consider all options regarding the potential development of the area of land between the existing main mill building and the river.

Please contact me if you would like to discuss the matter further. I would be happy to meet with you if this would be useful.

(attached file) St Ann's Mills EA Plan.doc

Chris Kwasniewski
Regeneration Support
Development Department
Leeds City Council

The Environment Agency sent an appropriate reply on 10 March 2004 stating that the land is in the flood plain and the Council must demonstrate that development would not cause problems. A meeting took place on 20 April 2004 in the Environment Agency Offices where LCC officers tabled a detailed site survey, purporting to show that a substantial part of the land "behind" St Ann's Mills was above the 100 year flood level.

Development officers prepared briefing notes on 1st April 2004 which outlined their thinking on the Kirkstall mills. Click here to download a copy of this document in Microsoft word format. It is clear that officers were by this stage contemplating very much larger schemes at both Abbey Mills and St Ann's Mills than have so far been revealed to the public. Also, the description of the development was gradually changing from "industrial" (where some firms are struggling and there is an argument for Council involvement) to "commercial", which is the buoyant office sector, with little justification for a local authority role. Note the references to bridging the mill goit at Abbey Mills, and the use of "high levels of glass" and "profiled metal sheet roofing" which doesn't sound like a sensitive restoration to me. The dates are not internally consistent in this document and it is likely that 24th April really means 24th March 2004.

Development officers prepared a 'Progress Note' for a meeting on 21 June 2004 which outlined the various options for the Kirkstall Mills. The new office development at St Ann's Mills would now be considerably larger than the existing mill, and require junction improvements onto the A65 Commercial Road. Key elements from this internal document are reproduced below.

Abbey Mills site (without Abbey Villas)900,000
Abbey Mills site with Abbey Villas (without new build)1.25m
Abbey Mills assuming new access and new build on car park area1m
Abbey Mills with:-
Abbey Villas site
New build on car park
New build on garden area of Abbey Villas
Abbey Mills existing use300,000
Abbey Mills mixed use, artist studios, craft shops etc450,000

St Ann's Mills
New build
(land to rear of mill and new build infill)
Land Value
2,500 m2
1,500 m2 0.9 acre
247,000 - 296,000
Rental values
(refurbished units)
60,000 pa 1,900 m2 new build area
35,000 pa
Capital value @ 9% yieldSay 1m
St Ann's Mills
(rental for refurbished mill building)
140,000 pa
Capital value @ 8.5 % yield1.6m
St Ann's Mills
Existing units
Rental value
Capital value @ 10% yield
391 m2 (4,215 sq ft)
Capital value St Ann's Mills when refurbished2.8m
St Ann's Mills refurbished
Mill building
Development land
Refurbished units
Capital value2m
Refurbishment costs St Ann's Mills 
Mill building
Additional floor
Slate roof
Single storey workshop
slate roof
Site clearance, landscaping etc250,000
Total refurbishment costs1.7m (excluding all fees)

Abbey MillsOne way system required.
New access over the Abbey Villas site.
St Anne's MillsExisting access adequate.
Improvements to junction necessary when use intensifies i.e. new build.
Pedestrian crossing planned within 2 years adjacent (east) of existing access, will improve access and egress.

Environment Agency
Land to rear of Mill buildingWill permit 1,200 m2 new build. Remaining land can be resurfaced and used for car parking.

River Authority
Bridge across the riverSupport idea of bridge to other bank.
ACTIONTo chase.

Nature Reserve
Paths along the opposite bankConsent required to enter into negotiations.
ACTIONSIdentify parties.
Enter into negotiations.

Abbey Villas
Department of Neighbourhoods and Housing and ALMOsThree tenants.
Not opposed to moving tenants.
RTB would not include all land.
Capital receipt (?) to ALMO and Department of Neighbourhoods and Housing.
ACTIONSClarify position re capital receipt.
Keep pressing Department of Neighbourhoods and Housing.

Arteeco Metal Craft
Tenant still in occupationLetter sent seeking vacation date and reminding tenant of repairing obligations.
ACTIONTo discuss the possibility of serving notice and assistance to relocate.

Armstrong Autos
Car repair unitPeriodic tenancy
Unsuitable use
ACTIONServe notice and offer unit at Jack Lane

649 Kirkstall Road
To demolishWard Member's views.
ACTIONSConsult Ward Members.
To demolish.

The Pocket Park
No funding available 
ACTIONDecision required

Planning Statement attached
Abbey Mills
St Anne's Mills
Design Statement.
Planning application.
Acquisition issues.
ACTIONSUpdate required.
Advice required.

Detailed feasibility
 Commission Consultants
ACTIONTimescale required

Reports and Funding
Forward plan
Executive Board
Meeting to be arranged.
15 September 2004.

Some of the statements in the above report are incorrect: Leeds North West Homes had NOT agreed to evict the "secure" tenants from Abbey Villa, and the Environment Agency had NOT agreed to a massive office development behind St Ann's Mills, despite considerable pressure from the Council's development staff.

For the next section I am constrained by various non-disclosure agreeements that I signed with Leeds City Council Development Department in November 2004. Although I have served as a Kirkstall councillor since 1979, this was the only way that I could gain access to the secret Council files. Since the Council has now embarked upon a public consultation exercise, and has itself disclosed some of the restricted information in public documents, I am seeking immediate release from these earlier agreements, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Council officers sought a valuation of the mill buildings from Lambert Smith Hampton, who reported on 15 September 2004 that the current value of St Ann's Mills after completion of outstanding repairs was 375,000 if the buildings remained in industrial use, [this figure was disclosed by the Council in December 2004] but that in its present dilapidated condition, with outstanding repairs, it was only worth not disclosed. The grand total of repair costs is greater than the "industrial" value of the buildings.

The Council then sought a further valuation of the mill after conversion into offices, and on 25 October 2004 Lambert Smith Hampton reported that after reconstruction of the fire-damaged third floor, the main building would be worth not disclosed, less total construction costs of not disclosed, and that the offices could be let for annual rents of not disclosed per square foot. This office rent figure is several times higher than industrial rents. There is an error warning in the valuation spreadsheet so all these figures should be checked.

Lambert Smith Hampton also reported that not disclosed square feet of B1 office development on the land between the mill building and the Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve would be worth not disclosed, and the total construction cost would be not disclosed. This is unsurprising - it is not difficult to make a profit by building on public open space! [The existence of this additional valuation report was disclosed at the Scrutiny "call-in" hearing in January 2005]

Meanwhile, I had discovered what was going on, and I wrote to the Environment Agency pointing out that one reason why the land behind the mills was higher than the floodplain was presence on site of hundreds of tons of general building waste, remaining after the departure of the skip hire company, and the Council's own demolition of the Victorian weaving sheds in the early 1990s. I enclosed photographs taken by local residents showing these operations in progress, and also included picures of the "madeground" with bits of breeze blocks, metal and plastic sticking out. These deposits plainly had a human origin. I pointed out that if we accepted the presence of builders' waste as a valid excuse for development, then overnight fly-tipping would start to appear all along the river bank as the riparian owners cashed in on a new development opportunity.

Development officers continued to press the Environment Agency to agree to a major office development behind St Ann's Mills. A futher meeting took place with the Environment Agency on 2 December 2004, but there is no mention of all this activity behind the scenes in the officers' report on 15 December 2004 to the Leeds City Council Executive Board.

The Executive Board Report

The 2004 report to the Executive Board still clung to the original concept: to sell Abbey Mills for residential development, while re-investing the proceeds in St Ann's Mills. It also claimed to generate 500,000 for works in the public realm. The problem is that the scheme does not stack up: the maximum possible capital receipt from Abbey Mills, even gratuitously including Abbey Villa (which is the Council house next door) is insufficient to pay for the refurbishment and removal costs, let alone fund any works in the public realm.

The shortfall must be met by "Prudential Borrowing", but here's the rub - the Council must service the loan, and the revenue receipts from industrial lettings are insufficient to meet the interest charges. The only way to do this is to let the buildings for commercial office rentals. Our existing tenants could not afford the costs.

The dilemma is implicit in the Executive Board report if one examines the rents and floor areas, but one needs to know these buildings intimately to spot what is going on. None of the Executive Board noticed, and to be fair, I did not realise either exactly where the problem lay. But I could see that the figures were wrong, and determined to use the "call in" mechanism to have a closer look.

The "call in" procedure

The Council's "call in" procedure allows a Scrutiny Board to review an Executive Board decision. The system is not used very often and it has subsequently been amended, but in early 2005 this issue was referred to the Development Scrutiny Board. Unfortunately I was not a member of the relevant board, so I could only be called as a witness, without any rights of cross-examination. No other councillor knew the intimate details of the case, so we were reduced to a system of briefing notes and sign language to convey the questions that should be asked. Moreover, the Council procedure rules require the entire process to be conducted very quickly, so there was no time for members to prepare or read through the evidence. Whatever the merits of the case, this insane procedure was unlikely to yield any useful results.

It didn't. The board agreed to release the scheme for immediate implementation, but during the course of the debate, Councillor Andrew Carter gave various very public commitments which further undermined the proposals. I am sure that he spoke in good faith, but had not been adequately briefed, so he announced that the Council would not be selling Abbey Villa, and there would be no further development at St Ann's Mills. Even if the scheme had been financially viable as approved by the Executive Board, it certainly was not viable by the time that Scrutiny had finished with it!

The only benefit from the Scrutiny hearing was that it flushed many of the background papers into the public domain, so over the next few weeks I was able to deduce what was really going wrong. The problem by this stage was how to stop it - this had quite needlessly become a Party Political issue, which was really silly because we were arguing about arithmetic. I referred the matter to Internal Audit in the hope that more accurate figures would illuminate the debate.

The Internal Audit Inquiry

This didn't work either. I submitted some notes for the auditor, plus the papers prepared for the "call in" hearing, but I expected to meet the auditor in person and go through the calculations line by line. Despite reminders, this meeting never took place, and after 8 months delay Internal Audit produced an anodyne report which avoided many of the serious issues that had been raised. It did not detect some really obvious arithmetical errors which are no longer a matter for dispute, and suggested, in essence, that things were slightly unsatisfactory, but no-one was really to blame. I refered the issue to External Audit, with the agreement of the Internal Audit division, who realised that things could not be left as they were.

Despite the lack of progress by Internal Audit, Development officers knew they had an unworkable scheme, and started to look for additional sources of income. Approaches were made to Yorkshire Forward in March and April 2005 to fund the construction of "Incubator Units" at St Ann's Mills. These were not included in the proposals approved by the Executive Board in December 2004, and they are incompatible with the scheme to re-locate the existing tenants. Incubator units are high-value "serviced offices" with high turnover, and intense use. They do not sit easily with the existing tenancies, which include wood carving, furniture repair and food photography, so the Council is now looking at new build for existing tenants and the conversion of a 175 year old pre-Victorian steam mill into ultra-modern offices for high-tech start ups. Meanwhile, financial viability drifts even further out of sight.

Fortunately, the interminable delays allowed the general issue of the Council's small industrial units to come before the Executive Board, so for the first time it became possible to compare figures for the whole of Leeds and see the true absurdity of what is taking place. Conversion costs at the Council's Domestic Street complex (which includes the multi-storey Barkston House and Croydon House) are about one twentieth of those at St Ann's Mills, because these are reasonably modern buildings that were designed for modern commercial and industrial use. There is a massive vacancy factor within the Domestic Street complex and many of the other units are occupied by Council departments who could easily re-locate. It is easy to achieve disabled access and 24/7 security with a concierge. This means that there is in fact a financially viable solution to the entire problem that is manifestly better value for money than the other solutions that are currently proposed.

To be continued...

This site is still under construction. I am working as fast as I can!

Brief summary
St Ann's Mills
Executive Board