Lower Holme in transition… (and a poem)

lower holme build 4-14 012This is Lower Holme: a twin row of mill houses (their back doors opening onto a shared alleyway), located in Lower Baildon, on the north side of the Aire and just to the east of Baildon Bridge. It has featured on this blog a few times before (see “Lower Holme” in Category listings), and indeed in our 2012-13 performance tours, because the residents have been suffering for years from neglect and disinterest on the part of relevant authorities… Until this spring, however, you would never have had this clear view of the gable ends, because there was a vacant and increasingly derelict mill building standing across the bottom of the street.

june13 005Here’s the old building, in a photo taken last year from the footbridge over the Aire. As an unadopted road, Bradford Council would take no responsibility for Lower Holme, on the grounds that the road belongs to the mill site owners and is “private” property. This despite it also being a public right of way, that leads to this footbridge across to Dock Field.

june13 002This view is from the bottom of the row of houses, looking towards the river. This hideous blue fence had been left up around the whole site by the developers – Mandale – who demolished the other mill buildings several years ago, but abandoned their building plans when the economy tanked in 2008.  The fence was left as a long-term eyesore for residents, and encouraged abuse of the area by bored local youths…

This is a similar view down towards the river, taken this week…  What a difference it makes just to have clear fencing, instead of corrugated metal!

lower holme build 4-14 009The last mill building was recently demolished by new developers, Marshalls, who bought the mill site from Mandale and plan to build a Wickes and a KFC on the site. This area between the houses and the river will be largely car-parking, however, so the residents will (we hope) continue to enjoy a much clearer view down to and across the river, even when the build is finished. The commercial buildings themselves will go up on the adjacent site to the right in this picture — again newly exposed by clear fencing!

lower holme build 4-14 002Recently, I was sent this poem by Lower Holme resident Lynda Callaghan, who has generously allowed me to share it here. It was written back in early 2008, after the metal fencing first went up, initially to shield the houses from the first round of demolition (on the patch to the right above). Lynda says she’ll probably have to write another poem now, to commemmorate this year’s changes, but this one speaks volumes…

LYNDIZ POEM (2)Lynda has even more sunlight now, of course, with the demolition of the last building. Although the site, of course, remains a wasteland for the time being… Marshalls say that the build will be completed by the autumn of this year – somewhat later than initially planned. Apparently the delay has been partly caused by the need to shore up the ground nearest the river, to comply with environmental and flood risk advice… You can see the earthworks here:

lower holme build 4-14 016Note that along this river side of the site, the Mandale fencing has been retained for the time being, perhaps to prevent rubble falling through onto the riverside footpath?

lower holme build 4-14 015Of course, the condition of this footpath continues to be very poor and difficult to navigate (it featured as the most “rugged” section of our performance tours in 2012-13). Despite being an ancient right of way, protected by law for public access, this path epitomises the continuing neglect of places that don’t present obvious commercial value to authorities and developers. Marshalls will not, of course, be taking responsibility for it — though to give them their credit, they have offered to resurface the broken road surfaces of Lower Holme, even along the stretch that they don’t technically own (apparently it belongs to the houses themselves now – like “riparian” ownership of a river – but the residents are hardly in a position to lay tarmac for themselves!). It does seem, then, that even though Wickes and KFC are not exactly what most people would choose to live next door to,  the new developments are – at long last – bringing some good news to the long-suffering, riverside residents of Lower Holme.

lower holme build 4-14 017

Some things change, some stay the same…

In preparation for next month’s re-mounting of our Multi-Story Water performance tours, I went walkabout around the Aire in Shipley the other day. I wanted to make sure that the script for our Red Route tour is up to date, and so the first port of call was Lower Holme, where that route finishes up – the site of the demolished mill still referred to locally as “C.F. Taylor’s”. I popped in to visit Margaret Wright, who lives in one of Lower Holme’s former mill cottages, and who has been a great supporter of our project almost from Day 1. (june13 001Here’s Margaret with her dog Millie, right.) I had been expecting to find the derelict mill site populated by trucks and workmen, because my understanding was that developer James Marshall was wanting to have work completed on the site by this autumn. (James has been pro-active in liaising with Lower Holme residents about his proposed retail development, and addressing their concerns – see previous blog posts on Lower Holme.) However, there is no sign of any work even having been begun, which is bewildering for Margaret and the other residents… After so many years of putting up with an ugly metal fence and a wasteland (and the social nuisance factor that comes with it), they must be wondering when the build is ever going to happen… That said, the current word is that the remaining Lower Holme mill building june13 003(left), which is in an increasingly poor state of repair despite having been converted as flats a few years ago, is to be pulled down as part of the new development. Margaret proudly told me that James had even asked some of the residents what they thought should be done with this building – convert for offices, social housing, or knock it down? – and that they had asked him to get rid of it. So now it’s going, and for once people feel like they have been consulted! But as I say, there’s still no visible change on site…. except for the appearance of black plastic bins along the path leading down to the footbridge across the river! These have nothing to do with the developer and everything to do with the residents. For years, Margaret herself has been taping black bin liners to the fencing june13 004so that dog-walkers had somewhere to put their muck and litter… Bradford Council will take no responsibility for doing this, even though this path is part of a much-used right of way across the river, because Lower Holme is an “unadopted road”. A group of residents, however, have finally managed to get some money together to purchase 3 bins to put up down the length of the street (including this one opposite Margaret’s house). Slingsby’s, the retailer on the other side of the fence, agreed to sell the residents 3 of these bins for the price of 2, and even to install them professionally… A gesture of neighbourhood goodwill that the Council might do well to learn from? This simple change has made a big difference to Margaret – creating a sense that things are finally starting to look up in the area. She and other residents are still having to empty the bins though (and the dog dirt they hold), into their own wheelie bins… Talk about “above and beyond the call of duty”!

june13 012The most visible change to the path of our Red Route walk since last September is actually along the river path between Salts Mill and Baildon Bridge, where the “Aire Sculpture Trail” has just been unveiled. It was officially opened on May 25th as part of the Saltaire Arts Trail weekend, by Andrew Mason – the developer who built Victoria Mills (he also figures prominently in Red Route!). This is because the funding for the Sculpture Trail actually comes from him, via Bradford Council, who levied “Section 106” charges on the Victoria Mills development. These funds, it was agreed, were to be used in the restoration of the rather neglected footpath linking VM with Saltaire. There’s an irony here in that, currently, the gate from the VM complex onto the footpath is kept padlocked for security reasons… so residents can’t easily use the path anyway. But the rest of us benefit from the entertaining, colourful sculptures that were commissioned from the HIVE Studios (based downstairs from Kirkgate Community Centre in central Shipley).

june13 007I think my favourite is this little fellow, perched at the end of the footpath on Baildon Bridge in his yellow rubber ring (or dinghy?). (Given that Baildon Bridge has a history of flooding problems, he might well need that ring at some point in the future!) The sculptures were created by artist Mick Kirby Geddes in collaboration with children at Wycliffe Primary School – and apparently there have already been some complaints that the sculpture trail is “childish”. It’s not high modernist art, certainly, but that’s clearly not its purpose – it’s there to be fun and attractive and provide something for families to do on a quiet afternoons. Of course, I could pick holes and complain that some of the sculptures seem to have little to do with the riverside setting, and could perhaps have been a bit more consistently themed june13 015(this snowman on the wall of Victoria Mills is a little on the incongruous side!). But that may be to miss the point: what is clear is that this rather narrow, uninviting piece of footpath has been rendered much more inviting and friendly by the presence of these sculptures – there’s a sense of welcome and warmth here, which is no doubt what was intended. It remains to be seen, of course, how well the new additions to the setting will be maintained — and whether the footpath itself will get the continued maintenance it very much needs. For now, though, a round of applause for HIVE, Mick Kirby Geddes, and the children of Wycliffe Primary…

june13 009


Up the Junction

Picture by Yvonne Roberts

The Junction pub – pictured here in the distance at the top of the two rows of Lower Holme’s former mill cottages – was last night the venue for a second meeting between Lower Holme residents and developer James Marshall. The first was held ten weeks ago, just two days after the conclusion of our September performances of Multi-Story Water‘s “Red Route” tour – a walk beside canal and river which finished at Lower Holme and told audiences the story of how the former mill site (once owned by Titus Salt himself – and some believe he initially meant to put Salts Mill here…) has been left abandoned and derelict since the mill buildings were demolished in 2006.

One of the more unanticipated outcomes of our research for the performances was that, having met James at his family’s company office in Elland, I was able to set up contact between him and the residents. James is looking to build a Wickes DIY store and a KFC fast food outlet on the derelict mill site, and the normal planning procedure would simply require him to post the plans publicly (online, and at Shipley Town Hall), and then deal with any objections that individual residents lodged, as they arose. Everyone concerned thought there was a better way to do this, and James – to his great credit – was keen to meet in person with residents to discuss their concerns and address them where possible. Of course, none of the residents is particularly thrilled with the retail plans for the site, but proper development of the site is generally recognised as being a vast improvement on the ugly metal fence left up by former site owners Mandale for the last six years…

Now, this might seem to have little to do with “celebrating Shipley’s rivers” (as per our Multi-Story Water project objectives), but Lower Holme’s past and present circumstances are integrally related to the close proximity of the River Aire. The mill was originally built here (by CF Taylor, who bought the site from Salt) in order to make use the water supply, and the current proposal for commercial development is again a consequence of the river being there. Mandale originally wanted to build residential properties on the site (presumably because they were considered more profitable), but that planning application was (according to campaigning resident Margaret Wright) rejected on nine counts — not the least of which is that the entire site is located on a flood plain. So it was back to retail sheds and car parking space…

I was asked to by Heather Moxon (who has worked tirelessly – with Margaret and others – to rally other Lower Holme residents around to present a collective front) to act as an independent chairperson at both the Junction meetings. At the first, back in September, amidst torrential rain (up in North Yorkshire, the Ouse was flooding that week…), we had a packed room full of residents all wondering who Mr. Marshall was and what he was up to. He had sensible answers to most of the more pressing questions about noise, light pollution and rubbish from the retail site encroaching on the residential area, and he even repeated his willingness (first mentioned to me in Elland) to put fresh tarmac on the heavily potholed road running down the eastern side of the site – in front of the odd-numbered houses. The cost of this is close to £40,000, and he doesn’t have to do it at all – he doesn’t even own the road – but it’s a gesture of goodwill towards the residents (as well as, obviously, creating a consistent level of road quality around the site – which James no doubt prefers on aesthetic grounds as much as anything). Most of the residents seemed very satisfied with this at the September meeting, but a lot of questions were left hanging about how exactly the new road layout would work: would it be one-way, two-way, how would access be guaranteed in and out for residents without it becoming a ‘rat run’ for Wickes customers dodging the traffic lights, etc. etc. The crowdedness of the room, and the fact that not everyone could see the plans clearly, or hear all of the conversation, left a clear sense that certain things were unresolved.

James and his architect Tony went away, spent a long time wrangling with the highways people about access points, traffic islands and lane layouts on the main road (apparently he’s going to have to pay about £50,000 for ongoing maintenance of traffic lights that aren’t even his!), and then proposed a second meeting down the pub. So we duly reconvened last night. This time the room was bigger, the pool table provided a much better surface for laying out plans, and less of the residents turned up anyway (presumably happy for the dedicated few to do the remaining wrangling over detail). So we were able to have a much more structured conversation about the key outstanding issues… although that’s not to say that we didn’t have plenty of passion expressed and go down plenty of side-alleys (a couple of them I introduced myself…). But we did reach agreement that everyone in the room was satisfied with, which seemed like quite an achievement, all things considered.

Partly for the sake of recording those agreements in a public forum, for the record, I’m going to outline what was agreed. The main debate revolved around this diagram:

The existing road around the Lower Holme mill houses will become the stretches marked in red and pink. The pink represents fresh tarmac. The red represents the area where existing cobbles will be maintained and restored for conservation reasons (a stipulation of the planning authorities). The new road entrance to the retail areas (just below the red bit in the diagram) has now been agreed with the highways people, so the top end of Lower Holme’s even-numbered side will now be blocked off from the road (where the greenery is), leaving the cobbled street as parking space for residents only. Additional parking spaces for residents have also been made available in the area to the right of the pink strip in this diagram. Originally James intended this for use by the “Office Unit”, but he agreed at the September meeting that more residential parking was a real need (since there were only ten spaces for fifteen houses on the even side).

Last night, the first thing raised by residents was the cut-in road access between the sections of greenery shielding the houses from the retail site. This had been provided for ease of circulation for residents, but the clear consensus of the meeting was that it was not required. Having this bit open would simply encourage unwanted short-cutting by KFC customers (particularly those on foot), potentially creating a significant litter problem in front of the houses. Residents much preferred that a solid wall of green screening be maintained down the length of the road, even though this will require them to drive a bit further round to get to their parking spots. James and Tony were happy to agree to this.

The more complicated issue was road access around the pink section. Did residents want to maintain two-way road access (as currently), and rely on “Residents Only” no-entry signs to deter potential short-cutters and rat-runners? The alternative was to create one-way access at the point where the pink road opens onto the new retail site’s access road. That is, residents would be able to get out here, but one-way floor spikes could stop Wickes customers getting in (to circumvent the traffic lights… although some doubted that they would do this, since drivers would then simply be presented with another obstacle – a difficult right turn to head east towards Charlestown). For a brief moment we considered one-way access in the opposite direction, preventing access from the main road onto the odd-numbered side of Lower Holme, but this was quickly dismissed because (a) this side, running down to the footbridge over the river, is a public highway so can’t legally be blocked, and (b) all residents would have to enter Lower Holme through the retail area, which was not an attractive option.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, those present eventually agreed – and unanimously – that the preferred option would be to prevent any access from the retail side by both narrowing the access point to a single lane, and putting in one-way access spikes. Meanwhile residents were happy that No Entry signs at the top of the odd-numbered side, by the main road, would adequately deter unauthorised traffic from that direction.  It was agreed that this ‘one-way’ plan was the best way to ensure that noise and nuisance was kept to a minimum (in practice, residents will still be able to get up and down the old streets in both directions – they just won’t be able to enter from the retail side). Again, James and Tony agreed to the residents’ request on this.

At this point, it looked like we had agreement. Then a bit of a spanner was thrown in the works by one of two representatives from Baildon Parish Council who were in attendance (a man named Ian whose surname I missed). He put it to the residents that, if James was re-tarmacking the road, this was the best possible moment to push for Lower Holme to be adopted by Bradford council. Since so many of the residents’ current problems are the result of it being an unadopted road (it’s deemed privately owned – previously by the mill owners, and now by a complicated mix of James as developer, housing association, and right-to-buy homeowners), having it adopted would solve a lot: proper maintenance of drainage gulleys, emptying of rubbish bins, street cleaning, etc. etc. So shouldn’t the residents push James to bring the road up to the required standard for adoption, Ian argued. James, for his part, pointed out that he was already spending close to £40k on relaying a road that wasn’t even his, and that the other things needed to bring it up to adoption standards (provision of street lighting, provision of new drainage channels, new pavement, etc.) would push that cost up much higher. If pushed to do all or nothing, he suggested, he would have to opt for nothing. The residents could see that this was a reasonable position for James to adopt (why punish generosity by demanding more generosity?), and they certainly did not want to let slip this opportunity to greatly improve the quality of a very degraded road surface. So Ian’s argument was politely rejected… or rather, it was turned around on the council representatives. Since James was doing the tarmac, why couldn’t the council meet him half way and do the rest? The response, predictable enough, was that Bradford has so many unadopted roads that paying to restore and adopt one would be the thin end of the wedge to adopting many more… at a potentially vast cost to the council (a council that is at present, of course, facing massive cutbacks owing to government-imposed austerity measures). So that wasn’t going to happen… much to the disgust of residents who pay the same Council Tax as everyone else, for only a fraction of the services…

In short, then, better to get something done than to ask for more and get nothing done. That was the pragmatic conclusion of the meeting. And with that, we finished our pints and headed off into the night. A good evening’s urban planning completed.

A small postscript here… By coincidence, the other representative of Baildon Parish Council last night was Barney Lerner, of the Aire Rivers Trust (aka Professor David Lerner, of Sheffield University), with whom I’ve met on a number of occasions about the ART’s present project to develop a Catchment Plan for Bradford Beck. A fellow river enthusiast. We were equally surprised to see each other at the meeting, and afterwards Barney congratulated me on my chairing of a meeting that had certainly been vocal and boisterous. “It’s a bit different from our meeting the other week in Saltaire”, he observed, “when everyone was very quiet and obedient.” Very different indeed, but then this was people’s homes we’d been talking about…

I need to catch up on some thoughts about that Beck meeting in another blog post. Watch this space.


Lower Holme – picture story

Under what circumstances might a new-build KFC going up near your home seem like a good idea? Read on and decide for yourself…

Shipley’s history (like Bradford’s more broadly) is inextricably tied up with the history of the wool industry and its mills… A particular mill site that has interested us during the Multi-Story Water project (it’s the location for the closing scene of our ‘Red Route’ walk) is Lower Holme mill, on the north side of Aire slightly to the east of Baildon Bridge.

To orientate your a bit, here’s an image not of Lower Holme but of the adjacent site, when it was occupied by the Airedale Combing plant. In this shot you can clearly see the River Aire towards the bottom left – running down from the weir that used to serve the long-disappeared Baildon water mill. The image gives you an idea of the sheer scale of Airedale Combing, once one of Bradford’s most advanced mills….

Note also in this shot the pathway that cuts diagonally across the bottom left corner of the combing plant. This is the ancient right of way along the north bank of the river – which cuts inland slightly at this point before meeting Otley Road near Baildon Bridge. That same route is still there, because it’s a protected footpath – but everything around it has since changed!

In this shot, we’re looking from the opposite angle to the first one — so that’s Airedale Combing again on the right, with the river visible above it in the picture. And next to it is the sprawling site of the (even bigger!) Lower Holme mill… The lot it occupies was owned for a period in the 19th Century by Titus Salt himself, and local historian Ian Watson believes it may have beeen the site originally intended for Salts Mill itself (his persuasive argument is outlined in his pamphlet “The Land Acquisitions of Titus Salt in Shipley and Baildon”). But Salt never developed the site, and sold it on to C.F. Taylor in 1862. To many people, the mill site is still known simply as “C.F. Taylor’s”.

This shot – clearly more recent! – shows Lower Holme, with a rather different set of buildings, following the demolition of both Airedale Combing (the empty site at the top of the picture — now occupied by B&M and other retail outlets) and the next mill along. Note that the line of the ancient riverside path is still clearly visible, curling between the buildings at the top of the shot (it’s now thoroughly fenced in!). Note also the two facing rows of Lower Holme’s mill houses in the bottom right of the picture. They’re the only buildings still standing today, and are still occupied by residents (about fifty-fifty private ownership and Accent Housing Association). The angle below, from the same helicopter fly-past, shows the houses prominently in the bottom of the shot…

Looking at this image, it’s worth bearing in mind that – according to the Environment Agency’s flood mapping, the entire space between the river (top of shot) and the road (bottom) is flood plain… All of those houses could flood in an extreme event, although in 2000 – during the last major flooding in the Shipley area – only the first four houses on either side, nearest the river, suffered from flooding, and at basement level (water coming up through the ground) rather than flowing in at ground level.

In a sense, the more serious “flooding” suffered at Lower Holme has been from economic rather than hydrological causes… Here we see the current, derelict state of the Lower Holme lot – with only one of the mill buildings surviving, just to the south of the mill houses. This was converted as flats just before the bottom fell out of the property market in 2008 – and the building remains unoccupied, with broken windows etc. Meanwhile, the new residential development planned for the cleared mill site (demolition was in 2006) never even got off the ground…

The property developers in question, the Mandale Group, have left these fetching metal hoardings surrounding the site for the last five or six years — creating something of an eyesore for residents, and arguably attracting “undesirables” to the area (as in the ‘broken windows’ theory of anti-social behaviour – if a place looks neglected and uncared for, it will attract carelessness…).

As you can see from this shot, taken a couple of months ago, Mandale have been trying to sell the site on for some time…

And in the absence of the developers, the riverbank itself has started to reclaim the site. One of the Lower Holme residents, Lynda, has walked around the derelict site and identified the ‘weeds’ as common riverside plant species…

The story has a new twist, though, because Mandale have recently succeeded in selling the site, to Marshall Commercial Developments. James Marshall, who is (rather intriguingly) the son of the man who oversaw the conversion of the Airedale Combing site into the current retail park area, has kindly provided the planning diagrams below, which show what he’s intending for the site… (as he says, they’re in the public domain, so there’s no secret about them – but the planning application has yet to be approved)

To see the picture at full size, just click on it. The eagle-eyed viewer will note that the developer named on the plans is “Mandale Commercial”: Marshalls are basically planning to move ahead with the last set of plans that Mandale had drawn up. The difference is that, where it seem Mandale was badly hit by the downturn in the property market, and could no longer borrow the money to pursue the build, Marshalls can afford to pursue the project because they don’t need to borrow. As a family firm for four generations, they have kept their assets in the company, to secure longevity (rather than stripping them out at the first opportunity). The main part of the site, then, will be occupied by a KFC – to the left of the plans, facing the main road – and a Wickes DIY store, to the right, next to the river. There’s also quite a bit of car parking space, and the old mill building is designated for “offices” (though James tells me it may end up as social housing).

Anyway, here’s what the KFC might look like, if they get planning permission…

What do you think? Is the potential nuisance value of having this near your home greater or less than the current nuisance value and eyesore of having the mill site indefinitely surrounded by ugly metal hoardings….?

Lower Holme’s residents have until this week to lodge any concerns they have with the planning authorities. What would you say?

(P.S. A week on… with the planning objection deadline having passed… and I learn that not all of the residents had even been informed of the planning application! Surely insult added to injury.)