OPPOSITION is growing to controversial plans for the demolition of a 19th-century Keighley mill.

Two heritage bodies have voiced concerns over the proposals to flatten Walk Mills.

And there are fears for the future of businesses based at the site, which is situated between the River Worth and the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.

But the site owner, B&E Boys Ltd, has defended its plans, which would see the bulldozed mill complex replaced with 12 modern business units.

The Rossendale-based company, which has submitted a planning application to Bradford Council, told the Keighley News that it felt the scheme represented the “most viable future” for the site.

However, both Historic Buildings and Places, and West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, have raised concerns with the council.

They say the Walk Mills site is historically important and should be preserved.

A spokesperson for Historic Buildings and Places says: “The mill is a legacy of the town’s textile heritage and its loss would result in significant harm.

“The application has not provided suitable justification as to why the existing buildings are unable to remain in their current light industrial use.

“It attempts to downplay the interest in the mill buildings for their plain design, but these were utilitarian factory buildings, and their historic interest is in their age, use of materials and contribution to the industrialisation and wealth of the town in the 19th century.

“The loss of so many other mill complexes to fire and redevelopment add to the importance of Walk Mills as a surviving example of an industry that once thrived in the valley.”

West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service says Walk Mills is a Class III Site of Archaeological Interest due to its long links with textile manufacturing.

A spokesperson adds: "Early evidence of mechanisation and the manufacture of textile machinery is also recorded at Walk Mills.

"With such a complex history, the archaeological evidence is of regional significance."

The Environment Agency has also expressed concerns at the application, relating to a lack of adequate flood planning.

John Grogan, Keighley's Labour parliamentary candidate, visited Walk Mills at the invitation of Bryant Plastics, one of the businesses based there.

He says: "There are over 50 people employed at businesses operating from the site. Moreover, two important public bodies concerned with heritage and architecture have now opposed the demolition of the mill and the Environment Agency has taken the same stance because of the lack of an adequate flood plan.

"I have written to the applicant suggesting it goes back to the drawing board and works with Bradford Council to produce a plan which preserves the historic mill and the jobs and businesses already in it, and creates more employment on the rest of the site."

B&E Boys Ltd says it is "giving full consideration to all responses from the technical consultees" and is in ongoing discussions with the case officer regarding "significant and challenging matters" that the site poses.

A spokesperson told us: "The decision to redevelop Walk Mills is one that has not been reached hastily, but over a period of 15 years or more since we took ownership of the site. The current proposals, in our opinion, represent the most viable future for the site.

"The development proposes to use land which would not only enable existing businesses to move into new space and thus preserve jobs and provide accommodation that allows sustainable employment, but also reduces the risk from flooding suffered on many occasions.

"Historic buildings are always the subject of much debate and controversy, and rarely is there unified agreement. Our company has over 60 years' experience in preserving a significant number of mill properties, but equally has also sometimes reached the painful conclusion that the needs of modern business can prevent this.

"The Walk Mills site has significant challenges. A considerable amount of design work and consultation with the Environment Agency took place over a ten-year period to model the river to ensure any redevelopment would reduce the flooding risk.

"There's a compelling economic argument to deliver new floorspace, and Keighley is a preferred location to provide new units to small and medium-sized businesses. These aspirations can't be met if constrained sites such as this are retained in their existing format."