2

Chris Smith discusses re-use of industrial
buildings in the Stroud Valleys.

It is my view that the underlying principle
illuminating re-use policies is pragmatism.
The result is often schizophrenic. In its
views on industrial buildings, the Montagu
report serves as a good example.
First, one is faced with the theoretically
excellent and pre-eminently positioned
Conclusion no 1: “ . . . let us state une-
quivocally that we consider the best use in
most cases is the use for which the building
was aheady designed..
In specifically focusing on industrial
buildings, the fact of a declining industrial
base waters this down first to “. . . convert-
ing premises as small units. . .“. The report
then proceeds to Condusion no 7: “We
recommend that where there is no demand
for industrial space in such buildings there
should be a presumption in favour of
change of use to residential.” Although
SAVE is quoted as seeing residential conver-
sion as a way of providing for a social need,
there can be little doubt that the prime
motivation behind this condusion was
experience. Already the committee could
quote major examples of buildings suc-
cessfully re-used in this way from all around
the world.
Circumstances in the property markets
were first to fulfil the aims of Condusion no 7
and then far to surpass them. That process is
dearly exemplified in the Stroud Valleys.
The Montagu report acknowledged, in an
aside, that a major group of mills is to be
found in Gloucestershire. By the mid 1980s,
that group had become the centre of atten-
tion and concern. As the primary weaving
industry continued to decline, environmen-
tal awareness grew. People became in-
creasingly concerned that the character of
the Stroud Valleys, where dramatic Cots-
wold scarp beauty mixes with industry in a
uniquely balanced way, would be lost if the
principal mills were to disappear. By 1986
when Urbed (Urban & Economic Develop-
ment Ltd) was commissioned to report on
the potential of the area and the future of
the mills, one group of buildings was giving
particular cause for concern.
Dunkirk Mills, Nailsworth, is a massive
landmark building, built serially from the
late 18th century onwards and listed grade 11*.
Visible from both the main A46 and the
cydetrail along the former Stonehouse to
Nailsworth railway, its decline symbolised
the problems of the valleys. The Urbed
report stressed that the scale of the building
called for a variety of uses which could
indude an industrial museum, with the
potential of success leading to out-station
developments around the valleys. This pro-
position was further grounded on a finan-
cial assumption: “Dunkirk Mills, if it were
converted entirely into flats, would produce
over 80 units which is far more than the
market could absorb, or a single investor
would fmance.” When the full heat of the
property boom reached the Stroud Valleys,
that assumption was to be, briefly,
questioned.
It was Matthew Saunders’ evidence to
the Montagu Working Party which
induded the excellent observation that
“The optimum stimulus to the re-usc of his-
toric buildings is a buoyant, but not boom-
ing, economy coupled with a tough exercise
of development controL” This holds equally
true when looking at a ‘knock it down’
redevelopment boom or, as in the 1980s, at
a phase when re-use is an accepted principle.
In the case of Dunkirk Mills, the boom
finally changed one developer’s perceptions
enough for him to believe that the market
could absorb about 70 flats, that entirely
residential conversion was viable and accor-
dingly to buy the mills. Hardly surprisingly,
the District Council, which by this time
definitely had a PROBLEM on its hands,
accepted the proposition. As a result, the
great landmark building in its dramatic
wooded setting, is now (almost completely)
repaired, its future secure. It has, of course,
a lot of smallish internal spaces, only a token
area for the display of industrial features,
ruched curtains and pansies in the gardens
but perhaps only the churlish will dwell
on that.
More importantly, the achievement is
flawed in two further regards. First the
boom market assumptions have been fier-
cely tested in the late 1980s and, few flats
sold, the building is being mothballed to a
chorus of internal recriminations. Secondly,
around the Stroud Valleys, buildings, many
of which would be more easily re-used than
Dunkirk, stand empty, while owners await
the domestic conversion bonanza. Kimmins
Mill, grade II, 1849, hardly ideal in that it
stands next to a working foundry, is one
example. Churches Mill, Woodchester, is
worse. Small enough only to accommodate
four residential units, it was actually in
industrial use when the owners relocated
the traditional stick manufacture as part of
the process of applying for residential con-
version. The scheme, which also induded
‘enabling development in the mill yard, was
approved by members despite a District
Council policy specifically adopted to com-
bat this pressure by insisting that residential
conversion should be the last option.
(Boom gone, the building now stands
empty and for sale at a far higher hope
value). On balance then, and with the
benefit of a great deal of hindsight, Stroud
Valleys experience could not support Mon-
tagu’s Condusion no 7.
In a far lower key, re-use in the valleys
has an excellent pedigree and significant
successes to its credit. First, it must be said
that the industry in these valleys has shown
itself to be remarkably adaptable. As weav-
ing declined, diversification into engineer-
ing and services proceeded. In many cases,
these new businesses moved into parts of
major mill complexes. Many buildings thus
survive and are re-used, although not always
with adequate investment ensured. Similarly a
number of buildings have been converted
for use by high tech new industry coming
into the area.
It is a matter of regret that the great
flagship gesture of the District Council in
converting Ebley Mill to its headquarters
has fallen under the shadow of financial dif-
ficulty. Whatever the reason for the soaring
contract cost, the unfortunate impression
that repairing industrial buildings costs a
very great deal has been reinforced. Stroud
District Council will have to survive politi-
GLOUCESTERSHIRE: PRAGMATISM
IN THE STROUD VALLEYS
Dunkirk Mills, Nailsworth, Stroud Valleys.
CONTEXT 26
11

2