What's the Future of Oldham's Historic Textile Mills?

The local authority has said that it can reduce Green Belt development by delivering 800 homes on the brownfield sites.

By Emma Davidson | 29 March 2022

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It’s no secret that Oldham is home to lots and lots of former textile mills – with a simple tram journey from Victoria to Oldham Mumps going past around 15 of the historic monuments to the town’s industrial past.

Go back around 15 years though and the same journey, on the train back then, would have seen you go past around 30 – the subsequent years seeing many of them demolished to make way for… well, not much really.

It’s all too common to have seen these monoliths of industrial heritage razed to the ground, only for the land to be left untouched – events that have been echoed across the likes of Werneth, Limeside, Royton and Derker for years.

As the centre of the world’s cotton-spinning industries during the Industrial Revolution, Oldham has been left with many of these under-used and neglected mills, and now it seems that Oldham Council have finally come up with a strategy of what to do with them.

The Council recently published a Mills Strategy document that sets out how this collection of historic buildings can play an important part in the borough’s future.

In total, seven mills have been picked out as having the potential for development over the next five years, these sites include: Elm Mill, Lily Mills, Greenfield Mills, Jubilee Mill, Jubilee Mill (Fulling), Prince of Wales Mill and Thornham Mill.

The study examines which of the town’s mills could be repurposed, with each site then being categorised as high, medium and low priority, using criteria such as architectural characteristics, condition, accessibility and current use.

So what’s the plan?

Well, the local authority is looking into the mills as a viable alternative to a lack of housing in Oldham, reducing damaging Green Belt development by delivering 800 homes on the brownfield sites of the mills.

Counsellor, Hannah Roberts, cabinet member for housing and planning, said: “The Mills Strategy underlines our commitment to brownfield-first development.

“It has been highlighted as an exemplar of the way we should be taking things forward and looking at the contribution mills can make to the future of Greater Manchester, including providing much-needed new homes and employment space.”

In total, 22 mills have been classed as high priority in the study – meaning their loss or demolition would be detrimental to the local area, and thus the idea of converting the existing building into housing is being considered. Medium priority mills have greater flexibility, whilst low value mills are regarded as offering little benefit to their community as they stand.

Any mill sites that could accommodate new homes are now part of Oldham’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment – a technical document which identifies land that might have potential for housing at some stage in the future.

Catherine Dewar, regional director at Historic England, said: “I’m thrilled that Oldham Council is committed to celebrating and conserving their famous mills, and it’s telling that other local authorities are already sitting up and taking notice of this trailblazing effort.”

You can view the full Mills Strategy online here