Government officials have praised efforts to regenerate an historic Somerset employment site ahead of any future funding bids.

Somerset West and Taunton Council sought nearly £20m from the government’s levelling up fund in mid-2022 to restore Tonedale Mill and the Tone Works complex on the northern edge of Wellington.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) announced in mid-January that this bid (along with two others put forward in Somerset) had unfortunately been unsuccessful.

The government has now provided full feedback on the bid, enabling any future funding request to stand a greater chance of success.

The levelling up bid was for a total of £19,987,663, and was focused on renovating both Tonedale Mill and Tone Works to remove them from Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register through a range of interventions – with the former being purchased by the local authority.

The buildings, which are grade two listed, formed the “industrial heart” of Wellington for around 200 years, centred around the manufacture of woollen and worsted garments.

At its heart, Fox Brothers & Co. Ltd. employed 5,000 people from the site, parts of which remained in active use until the late-1990s.

While Tonedale Mill currently remains in private hands, Tone Works was acquired by Somerset West and Taunton Council in 2020, with numerous phases of work being carried out to preserve the site since then.

More than £900,000 of central government funding has been spent on decontaminating Tone Works and carrying out much-needed repairs, allowing it to be opened back up in the future for a range of commercial or community uses.

The council has also acquired the Fox’s Field green space near both sites, providing open space for the creation of a community forest garden, as well as a large wedge of green land between Wellington and the nearby village of Rockwell Green.

Somerset Council – which replaced Somerset West and Taunton Council in April – said its ambition was to “breathe new life into the town by stabilising and securing these treasured assets, and enabling the development of an exciting mix of new cultural, community and commercial uses, alongside a unique and desirable residential opportunity.”

The bid would have ultimately resulted in nearly 7,500 sq m of new commercial floorspace being made available to Wellington residents, as well as 168 new homes being delivered near the site.

In their official feedback on the bid – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – DLUHC officials said this was “a relatively strong bid” which had “good detail on the economic case” for how the project would benefit the town and how deliverable it would be using the requested funding.

The department said they had been impressed by how the council had “cultivated long-standing relationships with a wide range of stakeholders” and the level of public consultation it had undertaken surrounding the future of this part of the town.

The bid also successfully argued that government funding was necessary because efforts to revitalise the site through entirely commercial means had proven stubbornly unsuccessful.

A spokesman said: “The council made it clear that the proposed activity addressed an enduring market failure in Wellington, and the rationale for support through government funding was strong.”

While the bid had “no glaring weaknesses”, the government said that it would have stood more chance of success if more detail had been supplied about how the council would have handled opposition to the proposals from the existing landowners.

A spokesman said: “Some indication of how the bidder would mitigate the risk around opposition to works being carried out at the site (particularly Tonedale Mill) would have also been helpful to understand.

“This was, however, not vital given that the site would be subject to a compulsory purchase order under the existing plan.”

The government also said “more detail could have been provided” on how the intended mixture of residential and commercial space had been decided upon and how it would be secure.

A spokesman said: “There was a good degree of confidence over financial deliverability, although there were some unknowns.

“Plans for the site after restoration had been completed had not been confirmed, though a number of current options around cultural, retail, or residential were being explored in consultations with the public and stakeholders.”

Bids for the third round of the levelling up fund are expected to be submitted before the end of the year. The council has not confirmed whether it intends to submit a bid, or whether the Wellington schemes will form part of any such bid.