THE FUTURE of Bradford’s historic mills is looking brighter than in the past, despite a concerning report.

Bradford-based mill historian Nigel Grizzard is optimistic about the future of former industrial properties in the area, despite a report by Historic England claiming that former textile mills are disappearing fast despite massive public support against demolition.

“Over the past few years a number of large projects have come to life including Bradford’s Conditioning House. My feeling is that after years of stagnation things are starting to happen,” he says.

Almost half across Greater Manchester alone have been lost since the 1980s, Salford has lost 66 per cent and Bradford has seen more than 100 fires at historic mills since 2010, said a new report by the public body that champions and protects England's historic places.

Chairman of Bradford Civic Society Si Cunningham praises the report for suggesting possible uses for old mills. The reports cites examples of good practice including Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley where 60 businesses occupy the space, including engineers, textile artists, artists and a dance studio. Dean Clough mill complex in Halifax is also highlighted.

“We would like to encourage imaginative uses, not just one-bedroom apartments and studio flats. We would like to see spaces used for creative industries and office use.”

Bradford Civic Society is interested in Historic England’s Heritage Action Zones, an initiative helping to breathe life into old buildings. With its high concentration of mills, Goitside, in particular, could benefit, says Si.

A couple of years ago there were objections to plans to demolish Bradford College’s former art school, Junction Mill - a former spinning mill - which lies in the Goitside Conservation area, including claims that the building should be used as a school, community centre, or textile museum rather than being demolished. Although the plans were approved, the building’s future is still in doubt.

A survey commissioned by Historic England found 90per cent of respondents in England believe mills are an important part of the nation's heritage, story and character. And 85 per cent said they do not want to see them demolished or replaced, according to the poll of 2028 adults.

Catherine Dewar, Historic England's Planning Director in the North West said: "With their ability to accommodate wonderful homes, workplaces and cultural spaces, our historic mill buildings deserve a future and should not be destroyed.

"They helped make us who we are in the north of England and have a profound impact on the physical and cultural landscape. Mills have so much to offer in terms of space, character and identity.

"By shining a light on successful regeneration projects, we hope to inspire others to recognise the potential of our former industrial buildings and start a conversation about their future."

Last year the landmark building Drummonds Mill was ravaged by fire and a few months later calls were made for greater protection of Bradford’s mills after another part of the city’s heritage, this time part of Prospect Mills in Thornton, was destroyed by a blaze - the third incident at the site in five years.

Following that fire local councillors said they would lobby the government to advocate a change in the law affecting developers of mill sites, with fire chiefs urging current owners to take steps to ensure their properties are secure.

Says Nigel: “There are so many mills, you cannot renovate all of them. It is important to retain a number of good examples.

“Drummonds was an enormous mill, which had points of interest such as the boardroom, but was not a magnificent building like Salts.”

He added that decisions on the future of mills were made against a background of economics. “There are hundreds of mills and a lot are being used, which is important. They provide homes in convenient places.”

Leeds-based Priestley Homes’ plans for the Conditioning House include luxury apartments, offices, a cafe and gym. “Particular attention to detail has been made to the heritage items of the building in order to retain and enhance its features,” a company spokesman says.

Historic England want public support to galvanise owners and developers to see the potential historic mills can offer for conversion instead of demolition.

Both Nigel and Si believe that there are some situations in which the best option is to demolish a building and use the land.

Says Si: “Sometimes a building will be in such a poor condition that it is not in the public interest to keep it standing. Clearance may be necessary and better use can be made of the land. Ultimately we want to encourage urban renewal. If some mills are not particularly significant this would attract few objections.”

Awareness of the issue, has he says, increased, particularly with social media. “It is good that we are having these conversations.”