Cultural and heritage regeneration along with sustainable development to ensure future economic prosperity are key to managing the iconic World Heritage Site of Saltaire.
By Helen Thornton
The industrial village of Saltaire was inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage List for being an outstanding example of mid 19th century philanthropic paternalism which had a profound influence on developments in industrial and urban planning in the United Kingdom and beyond. It survives in a complete and well-preserved form as testimony to the pride and power of basic industries such as textiles for the economy of Great Britain and the world in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries.
The integrity of Saltaire as a model industrial village is almost total. The boundary of the property coincides with the extent of Titus Salt’s original development: the model village and its associated buildings, the majority of the mill complex and the Park. Some buildings (representing only 1% of the original buildings) were demolished in the past but those existing at the time of inscription and the layout of the complex are still intact. Mill machinery was removed after industrial activities ceased in the mid-1980s. There are limited opportunities for new development within the site. Beyond the site’s boundaries, development has surrounded the property to the east, south and west for the last century, with the remnant Aire river landscape to the north.
An intensive programme of sensitive rehabilitation and conservation of the entire complex has meant that its attributes – form and design, materials and substance, and function (in terms of a living community) – continue to thrive and express its outstanding universal value. The original rural river valley setting has gradually disappeared over the last one hundred years but significant views remain. Given that part of Salt’s original intention was to locate Saltaire in a healthy environment, the buffer zone is important in this respect. The World Heritage Site is also entirely within the Saltaire Conservation Area (designated 1971) and all buildings of significance are listed (1985).
The story of Saltaire since the late 80s is, by now, a familiar one but it remains an inspiration for heritage regeneration projects in the village and its immediate setting. Salts Mill’s saviour was the late Jonathan Silver who purchased the Mill in 1987. Silver was an entrepreneur, art lover and businessman, who had already worked with Sir Ernest Hall in the regeneration of Dean Clough in Halifax. His idea was to open a gallery featuring the works of his friend David Hockney, who was born in Bradford. The mill now exhibits the largest collection of works by Hockney, combined with high quality retail outlets and restaurants and it is a major national attraction. The new uses are very complimentary to the original layout of the Mill; visitors can easily appreciate the vastness of the space, and its structure. The success of Silver’s project was to inspire others.
The adjacent New Mill, constructed in phases from 1868 onwards was, by the early 1990s in a very poor condition. In 1992-1993 New Mill was extensively refurbished and some later parts of the Mill were demolished to make way for essential car parking and an access route was opened through the building. New Mill has been converted to offices for the local Health Authority and luxury apartments. Partitioning of the large spaces has been designed so as to be easily reversible.
Regeneration can be many things: the revival of historic buildings, the consequential and deliberate revitalisation of economic prosperity, re-designing the type and scale of economic activity to meet the demands of environment and the future, the reawakening of what is possible, and the building of a skills legacy for the future.
Shipley College has also played a central part in the revival of historic buildings and a renaissance of business and learning activity. A general further education college based entirely in Saltaire, Shipley College has had stewardship of several significant buildings and it takes a full part in the life of the village. When the Saltaire Grammar School that Titus Salt established relocated to new premises the college took on the former school building. It was extensively restored in the 1980s and a new annex building was created to the rear. The Dining Room building created by Salt was converted to classrooms on two floors, but in such a way that the conversion could be reversed. Several years ago the college also leased Victoria Hall, which is used for community events like the Saltaire Festival, adult education classes, weddings and other celebrations. Most recently Shipley College and Titus Salt School have set up a collaborative project working with key local employers, supported by Bradford Council to develop Bradford’s young business talent. This partnership represents a long-term commitment to students’ education and to creating a vibrant and regenerated local economy.
These young people are employees (and potentially employers) of the future and established businesses have recognised that the education of Bradford’s young people needs to be relevant and focused. Employers who are already involved include Yorkshire Water, Provident Financial Group, Beaumont Robinson, Incommunities, UKAR, Rance Booth & Smith Architects, Rex Procter & Partners and Tandem Marketing. This Centre of Excellence is based in Victoria Hall and ties in well with the original philanthropic objectives of the building. The business centre fit-out is reversible and respects the layout, design and appearance of the room – it is an inspiring space.
Achieving successful regeneration in Saltaire
Regeneration of the buildings has been very successful in Saltaire and virtually all its original buildings are in use with vibrant businesses, retailing or residential uses all sustaining the historic environment. How has this been achieved?
A flexible approach has been taken to the conversion of the buildings and the new uses they have been put to. A key challenge has been to maintain this vibrant balance of uses whilst retaining an understanding of the historic value of the setting. There is a need for positive responses to the changing needs of organisations that have contributed so much to regeneration.
In planning terms there is of course a presumption in favour of the preservation of the World Heritage Site and its setting. Development that would adversely affect the character, appearance, setting or views into or out of the World Heritage Site will not be permitted. Developers are required to demonstrate that full account has been taken of the impact of their proposals upon the site and its setting, and that their scheme will have no adverse affect upon it. Early consultation, flexibility and close working with conservation professionals is the key to good design.
An environmental capacity study has done much to guide and inform development in Saltaire. The need for such a study was identified in the 2000 World Heritage Site Management Plan to aid the long-term management of the site. Essentially its purpose was to evaluate the level and type of change that the World Heritage Site and its setting could accommodate.
The study was commissioned by Bradford Council in 2005 and undertaken by Atkins Heritage. It was completed in 2006 and awarded a Royal Town Planning Institute Heritage Award. Environmental capacity is defined as ‘the ability of the environment of a place to accommodate specific types of change or development without degrading its special interest, character, fabric or setting.’
“We were confident of success because of the success of Saltaire World Heritage Site. We kept revisiting Saltaire to review materials and soak up the vibrant atmosphere.”
The study started by identifying the key values of the site – fabric, character, quality of life and, to understand more fully the issues and threats to those values – traffic, tourism, development. There was an assessment of the relative nature of those threats whether they were classified as minor, moderate or significant. The study established monitoring indicators for those of greatest concern. There was public consultation on the development of the indicators. Its recommendations included a series of monitoring indicators that could be used to aid the long-term management of the site. The study has enabled a positive and proactive approach to change.
Drawing inspiration from Saltaire
Victoria Mills is a 19th century woollen mill situated within the Buffer Zone of the World Heritage Site in Shipley, Bradford and within sight of Salts Mill. The development by Newmason Properties has created over 450 luxury apartments complete with roof gardens, balconies, concierge service, landscaped gardens, a river frontage seating area and tennis courts. Andrew Mason, chief executive of Newmason Properties has continued the entrepreneurial spirit of Saltaire.
Andrew writes: “Both Alec (my business partner) and I met up with Robin Silver once we had bought Victoria Mill. We had both read the book ‘Salt and Silver’ by J. Greenhalf… Salt’s vision of a model village influenced our thinking throughout our project as did other key regeneration areas such as Salford Quays, Liverpool Docks, Newcastle and Glasgow. We visited all these places during our reflective phase.
“The pallet of materials we used for construction and conservation was partly due to the legacy of how well the buildings of Saltaire had performed. Both Salt and Silver were inspirational characters who had vision and, although on a smaller scale, we also had a vision. Helped by City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and English Heritage, who were encouraging throughout, we wanted to create a super place to live with lots of amenity value.
“We were confident of success because of the success of Saltaire World Heritage Site. We kept revisiting Saltaire to review materials and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. We drew inspiration all the time as we could see all the major buildings from our site. We wanted to do the job right as they had done. There was always a fear of failing the comparison test….those Victorians knew how to build! Our buildings needed to be significant and high quality design but they needed to be stand out and be different. Since we opened for business we have had excellent tenancy, sales and turnover rates and low vacancies.”
The development has won a string of awards including the Bradford District Design Awards for Architecture 2008, a Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Residential Award 2008, the Premier Award for Best Large Development in North England and Wales, the RICS Award for Building Conservation 2005.
Regeneration projects continue to improve the public realm in Saltaire with a very recent significant investment in a new road junction at the south west of the site. This scheme sets out to improve safety and provide a high quality public gateway for the interpretation and appreciation of the World Heritage Site. Traffic calming, a shared public realm and better road crossing points should bring benefits to residents, local traders and visitors alike.
Victoria Road – the principal street running north-south through the heart of Saltaire and providing access to several significant listed buildings and stunning views of Salts Mill and Baildon Moor to the north – is subject to investment in excess of £700,000. This scheme seeks to restore authenticity and integrity to the street, improve pavements with high quality original materials, and upgrade accessibility and readability of this historically significant street and its frontages.
Planning for the future
The Management Plan written at the time of inscription in 2001 is now being thoroughly reviewed and re-written and a major public consultation exercise is ongoing. A new plan will have detailed objectives for the next five years and aspirations for the next 30 years. A new vision for the site is being formulated around the key aim to be a welcoming and inclusive place with a vibrant community, which takes inspiration from its past, whilst planning for a sustainable future and striking an effective and creative balance between a place to live, invest in, work, learn and visit.
Saltaire aspires to be a place where World Heritage significance is fully acknowledged, appreciated and understood by present and future generations. Everyone working in and for Saltaire strives for the highest standards of interpretat
ion, protection and conservation in support of deliverable economic development and tourism. Sustainable development, cultural and heritage regeneration remains central to these aims.
Helen Thornton is Saltaire World Heritage Site officer for the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council