Historic Temple Works could be saved with heritage bid

A dilapidated former flax mill in Leeds considered one of the most important buildings at risk in the north of England could be saved as Leeds City Council proposes supporting a major private sector-led bid to release heritage funding for its restoration.

The Grade 1 listed Temple Works- also known as Temple Mill- once held the accolade of having the largest room in the world. Proposals to protect the building and bring it back into use are still very much in development.

However, initial ideas include attracting international touring modern art exhibitions and events, commissioning a public artwork from an artist of world renown and showcasing the building’s heritage with a learning centre.

Temple Works is at the heart of the historic Holbeck Urban Village industrial heritage site, and a key part of the South Bank regeneration area on the edge of Leeds city centre. It suffered a major structural failure in 2008 when part of the roof and frontage fell in.

The building is privately-owned and its owners then worked with the council and English Heritage to shore it up safely to prevent further collapses. However, its long-term future cannot be protected without considerable investment of an estimated eight-figure sum.

Now a developer called Citu has come forward, with the agreement of the owners, with a proposal for a comprehensive repair and restoration scheme. It involves putting in a bid for Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) cash to help drive the refurbishment.

They have asked the council to support their bid to the HLF, which considers such applications only once a year, with a deadline at the end of November. A report on this will go to the council’s executive board on November 19.

It acknowledges that the council cannot itself develop the building given the very significant costs but indicates that supporting a HLF bid would help unlock major investment and give the council considerable influence over how to best preserve it for the city.

Temple Works was way ahead of its time when it was constructed from 1838-1840, with innovative engineering construction techniques and one of the world’s first hydraulic lifts. Its Egyptian-style frontage was influenced by the Temple of Horus at Edfu and the two-acre spread of its main working hall was at the time thought to be the largest room in the world.

Also noted far and wide was the eye-catching sight of sheep grazing on its roof: an innovation of the era to keep humidity in the mill so that the lined thread being produced did not dry out.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for transport and the economy, said:

“Temple Works is an incredibly-important part of Leeds’ proud industrial history and this is a rare opportunity to potentially preserve it for the city. However, the sums of money involved in saving what is one of the most important at-risk buildings in the north are enormous.

“If we lend our support to this bid, it could unlock millions of pounds in investment for what is a true industrial and cultural jewel and ensure that generations to come can enjoy and value Leeds’ biggest hidden historical gem.”

Officers are recommending that the council agree in principle to work with Citu to facilitate the restoration and support its bid for stage one HLF major grant funding. This will be submitted by a charitable trust established by Citu.

Councillors will also be asked to agree proposals to sell the trust around seven acres of adjacent council-owned land at Bath Road and Leodis Court to contribute towards the costs of the redevelopment of the mill. Sale of the assets would release cash to allow the council to contribute towards the match-funding required for the HLF bid.

It is noted that at this stage the support would be in principle only, with council officers to work alongside the charitable trust to help them develop their proposals and ensure all proper procedures are followed, prior to further recommendations being made to the council’s executive board.

In addition to the heritage-focused main use of the building, Citu also propose mixed-use residential and leisure development and a new public open space on the land that is currently council-owned. They have a conditional agreement to acquire Temple Works from its existing owners within the next 12 months in order to progress the HLF bid.

Ownership of the mill would transfer to the trust on completion of the restoration and its board would include people with previous expertise in the development and operation of major historical buildings.

In their report to councillors, officers note that the council has a strong track record in facilitating protection and refurbishment of the city’s heritage buildings. In recent years it has been involved in successful restorations at Leeds City Museum, Leeds Grand Theatre and City Varieties and the Leeds Townscape Heritage initiative. Its executive board also recently agreed for proposals to be brought forward to further protect and improve Leeds Town Hall, subject to a separate HLF bid.

Notes to editors:

Citu are a Leeds-based company whose previous projects include the conversion of Shaftesbury House in Beeston into the sustainable Greenhouse building, which provides home, office and open space.

Part of the Temple Works building is currently used by a number of cultural groups, with the permission of the current owners.

For media enquiries please contact:

Donna Cox, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 224 3335

Email: donna.cox@leeds.gov.uk