More recent history of the Mill
Who would buy a derelict mill trapped between a railway track and a river?
We are local builders and have lived in the area for many years. As with many 'locals' we had always been aware of the derelict mill and it was our father's dream that one day it would be restored. Sadly he passed away long before we bought it.
We actively began looking for the owner about 15 years ago. Firstly we traced the last business which operated out of there - A Fire lighting Company-" CHLOROPHYLL & DERIVATIVES LTD ". The owner had died but we managed to track down his daughter and had lengthy conversations with her about whether or not her father had sold the mill.
In 2008 we read an article in The Wiltshire Times which referred to the fact that the owners lived in London and there was a partial email address attached. We used this information and emailed the owners using different combinations of possible email addresses until we had a positive hit.
We had made contact!- they were not interested in selling the mill but agreed to meet us.
We met them in London and many pints later the owners agreed to sell. They had inherited the property from their parents but were not in a position to restore it themselves.
We bought the property in January 2009. the previous owners were aware that their father who was an architect had extensive planning permissions but none of us were certain that it was still valid. However it was later conformed by the planning department that as he had started work it was still active (extant)- a bonus we could not have dreamed of.
The only serious problem left to us was access across the railway and again we were lucky as the vehicular access was still legal and Network rail agreed to re-instate the crossing to enable us to begin work.
The previous planning permission was for extensive work to the main mill and we subsequently applied for and were granted permission for two cottages in the the building which had been hidden by undergrowth for many years.
The waterwheel is a key feature of this property and we were not surprised that the previous owner had generating electricity as part of his plans.You don't need to spend many minutes alongside the weir to feel the power of the water as it pours over the top. Therefore we too felt that this site was so ideal for generating electricity that it should form part of our plans. Again extensive research was part of the process and we spent time visiting sites with turbines, talking to different experts ( and those with less knowledge) until we were clear about our way forward.
From early January 2009 we began with clearing the site, no small task with 40 years of over grown vegetation. But before we started any work we employed a professional photographer to take over 200 photos, inside and out, as we were well aware of the interest in this mill.
At this time time we had extensive discussions with Planning Officers, Senior Conservation Officer about our plans for the development of the site including our desire to generate electricity. They were and continue to be extremely supportive. We also made contact with a representative from the local parish council (Winsley) and continue to keep him informed.
Work progressed during this time, the mill was cleared, and made safe. Consideration was given as to whether it was worth trying to save the machinery inside the mill or the actual structure of the building. We asked the advice of the conservation officer and he was keen for the building to be saved. Much of the machinery was completely rusted out but we have saved what we could and plan to reuse it on site.
In order to move water through a turbine you need to have a license from the Environment Agency. We employed an agent to do this for us. He began by ensuring that no other applications had been made in the local area for these licenses and this was found to be the case so we had the 'green light' to go ahead.
In September 2009 we submitted our application with the expectation that we would receive our license and begin to generate 'green' energy by the following Summer or Christmas at the latest. This application was a good one and accepted as valid.
In February 2010, after Public Consultation and Environment Agency scrutiny we were issued draft licenses with licenses to follow but and unfortunately from then on 'the water began to get very muddy'!
The mill owner opposite had decided to also put in an application to generate electricity but as his was put in much later (nearly 4 months) we were confident that ours would be looked at first- as happens with planning and licensing applications. However this did not happen and the Environment Agency began to 'interfere' and manipulate the existing process to enable them to look at both applications.
We gave them time to do this but they had to make a decision on our license by the 30th June 2010. At 6 o'clock that evening they were unable to do this so they were informed by our agent that we would be going to appeal to the Secretary of State and that we wanted them to stop any more work on our license and ensure that the water which we were applying for was available for the Planning Inspectorate to be able to allocate to us if they found in our favour. Naively we believed in due process and fairness but this was not what we received. At the same time our agent made a Freedom of Information request to the Environment Agency asking for all internal and external information relating to the two mills.
Despite our request the Environment Agency issued the license to the other mill owner and thereby effectively blocked our appeal. The Secretary of State informed us that although we could still appeal if they found in our favour there would be no redress against the existing license and that our only option was to seek a Judicial Review through the High Court.
We wrote to the Environment Agency explaining the predicament they had caused by their actions but their response was not positive or at all helpful. They were not prepared to re-look at their decision, quash the license they had given to the other mill owner or accept that they had made a mistake.
In August, after paying nearly £1000 we received a large bundle from our Freedom Of Information request. We were horrified and disgusted to read how the Environment Agency had gone about their work and the evidence in front of us gave us every confidence that we should expose their decision making at the highest level.We are builders, we want to build, we want to generate electricity .. we do not want to spend our time or money taking anyone to Court.
We employed solicitors and barristers -they agreed. We submitted paperwork to the Court and in March 2011 the Judge agreed as well that there was case to answer and that we could proceed to High Court.
We are now on the 'warned list' waiting for a Court date.The situation created by the actions of the Environment Agency is proving to be a difficult and expensive mess to unravel.
Our Country needs renewable energy. We would have been generating electricity by Christmas 2010 and would have saved 220 tonnes of fossil fuel This makes no sense to us or anyone else
We have recently written a letter to the Prime minister expressing out concerns but have not received a reply to date.