THE owner of Tonedale Mill has faced an ultimatum from Somerset Council - ‘carry out repairs or we will.’

Mancraft ABC Ltd, who own the site, has been given just 14 days to begin the process of “urgent repairs” by the council, who have pledged to step in and carry out the works before handing a bill to the firm if they fail to abide by the instruction.

This is the third occasion on which the council has had to issue what is known as a section 54 notice at the site, which gives local authorities power to intervene to preserve listed buildings.

Notices were issued in 2018, 2022 and now fresh notice has been given in February 2024, with the council making a range of demands

Mancraft have been told to appoint a principal designer and a contractor and that they must instruct contractors with “suitably qualified contractors, with professional structural engineering supervision able to demonstrate experience with listed mill buildings.”

The firm have also been instructed to carry out an ecological appraisal and to erect an exclusion zone around the building while works take place - in addition to a number of other measures.

It comes just months after Somerset Council threatened the firm with a compulsory purchase order, after they said previous legal notices to make repairs had not been obeyed.

Buying the site became a possibility, Somerset Council said, after it was awarded £20 million as part of the government’s ‘levelling up’ fund.

Contained in the authority’s bid was a provision to use some of that money to purchase the 18th century former mill. However a spokesperson said the council would prefer to reach a “negotiated settlement.”

At one time Mancraft Ltd had outlined plans to convert the site into 220 new homes, but with the historic mill now appearing in a state of disrepair, those plans seem far from ever coming to fruition.

Somerset Council previously expressed optimism that the Mancraft Ltd could help bring an end to the longstanding row over the site, telling the Wellington Weekly in November they hoped works to repair the roof would take place by the new year.

However there appear to be no signs of those urgent works being undertaken, and the dispute now looks to rumble on.

Commenting on the latest section 54 notice, a spokesperson for Somerset Council said: “Somerset Council has served an Urgent Works Notice under Section 54 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 on the owners of Wellington’s Grade II* listed Tonedale Mill.

The Notice informs Mancraft ABC Ltd, Mancraft BH Ltd, and Mancraft Ltd, that works to stabilise and protect the roof and supporting structure on the building known as Block B are urgently necessary for the preservation of the nationally significant building.

If after 14 days the owner cannot demonstrate that they are going to undertake the works the Council will have the right to carry out the works in default and re-charge the owner. 

Regarded as one of the best-preserved examples of its kind, Tonedale Mill was the largest textile manufacturing site in the South West, famous for producing twill fabrics such as ‘serge’, and later khaki cloth and puttees used by the British Army in WWI.

A significant proportion of the early 19th century mill remains, however, many of the privately-owned buildings have fallen into disrepair and are now registered as ‘Heritage at Risk’ by Historic England.

Cllr Ros Wyke, Lead Member for Economic Development, Planning and Assets, said: “The Council has been negotiating with the owner for a number of years to safeguard the repair of these historic buildings. A number of legal actions have been taken by the Council over the past few years but concerns remain over the condition of this important part of our national and local industrial heritage.”

Mancraft ABC could not be reached for comment.