An historic Yorkshire Dales visitor attraction is to close just ten years after it reopened following a £1.2m restoration project which was funded with public money.
It has emerged that Gayle Mill, in Gayle, near Hawes, needs significant work to rectify problems left after the original restoration project was completed.
North of England Civic Trust (NECT), which owns the mill, has served notice on the local volunteer group operating the building.
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Gayle Mill Trust (GMT) has been told it must move out of the mill as it is to close for remedial work to be carried out to ensure it complies with health and safety rules and NECT’s insurance obligations.
However, GMT claims the closure is unnecessary.
First opened in 1784 as a cotton mill, Gayle Mill reopened in 2008 as a heritage venue and visitor attraction after funding was found for its renovation from various sources including the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and Yorkshire Forward.
In a letter to GMT chair William Lambert, NECT says it must close the mill to “mitigate the risks” and “enable the necessary works to be planned and implemented”.
But the planned closure has angered members of the mill trust who say there is no need to shut the attraction, which is making a profit and is safe for the public to use.
GMT claims NECT board members have refused to meet with them to explain their decision.
In a disclosure which raises significant concerns about the standard of work carried out during the original restoration, Mr Lambert says in a letter to trust volunteers and supporters that the building has a number of issues which were already apparent in 2008 when the work was supposed to have been completed.
- The weir under the bridge was put in wrongly so the mill does not get enough water in periods of low flow.
- The stone section of the leat was never restored so GMT had to bolt the two sides together to prevent it from falling into the beck.
- The wooden section of the leat failed even before the restoration was complete and has had to be fitted with a plastic liner.
- The stone header tank at the end of the leat has always leaked and needs to be rebuilt.
- The new turbine, which was supposed to provide an income for GMT, has only run for a couple of months in its entire life.
- The central heating boiler does not work properly.
- The windows were patched by filling the rotten areas and woodworm holes with putty and painting over them.
- The fire escape which was originally supposed to be built from oak was actually built from the cheap soft wood available and has had to be strengthened by GMT on several occasions.
- The slates on the new roof were not properly bedded and the roof has leaked from day one.
In the letter, Mr Lambert says GMT was asked to sign up to a full repairing and renewing lease.
However, he says that because of the problems, which he says were pointed out to NECT at the time, it was felt a lease of this kind was not appropriate.
Instead, GMT agreed to pay a modest rent.
In 2011, a five-year licence to occupy was drafted, with the responsibility for all the failed restoration staying with NECT and the running of the mill and the maintenance of all the machinery being GMT’s responsibility.
Mr Lambert said that during the five-year period NECT promised to get the mill into a position where GMT could sign a full lease.
However, in 2016 GMT says it received an eviction notice from NECT, which said it planned to mothball the mill.
It was later agreed that the licence would be extended for a further period of 18 months giving NECT time to apply and get funding to rectify the problems.
For its part, GMT said it would pay an enhanced rent and cover all their running costs.
However, GMT was given another notice to leave in November last year, which game the volunteers just two weeks’ to move out.
GMT took legal advice as it had a Christmas fair planned and needed time to remove the items it owns from the building which it owns.
GMT said, however, that it had agreed to hand back the keys on March 31.
Mr Lambert said that ahead of the fair GMT repaired the windows and work was done to ensure the fire exit was safe.
This work to the fire escape was approved by a structural engineer, said Mr Lambert, who added that GMT has its own public liability insurance.
In the letter to volunteers, Mr Lambert thanks them for their support over the last ten years.
He adds: “We should all be very proud of what we have collectively achieved at the mill, tens of thousands of enthusiastic visitors, not to mention all the course attendees and all of whose testaments show Gayle Mill to be one of the most important industrial heritage sites in this country.”
Richmondshire Today has contacted NECT by email and phone asking for the trust to comment, however we have not yet had a response.
In the letter to GMT, Graham Bell, director of NECT, said: “We have now reached the point that the essential works which determine public safety must be addressed to ensure compliance with adequate means of escape, health and safety regulations and NECT’s insurance obligations.
“It was understandable to adopt the approach we have but now remedial action must take precedence.
“As the owner of the property, it is NECT who must take that action and to mitigate the risks and enable the necessary works to be planned and implemented, NECT must close the mill and therefore GMT must co-operate by vacating it.”
In 2004, Gayle Mill, which has been described as the oldest structurally unaltered cotton mill in existence, featured on BBC TV’s Restoration series, coming third in the national final.
Then in 2012, Gayle Mill featured in Channel 4’s How Britain Worked in which motorbike racer and TV personality Guy Martin celebrated the workers of the Industrial Revolution.
For further information on the history of Gayle Mill click here.