PRESS RELEASE: SAVE condemns proposed demolition of Historic Southampton Mills

24 February 2020

SAVE condemns proposed demolition of Southampton’s Solent Flour Mills as owners ABP resist calls to re-think plans

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has condemned plans by Associated British Ports (ABP) to demolish the historic Solent Flour Mills in Southampton. Despite urgent calls from two Ward Councillors and over 700 people who have signed a petition to halt the demolition.
Built in 1934 by Joseph Rank (founder of Rank Hovis McDougall), the Solent Flour Mills were the first buildings constructed on the reclaimed land now known as the Southampton Western Docks. Only closed in February 2019 they are one of the only remaining links to the City’s industrial past and one of only two surviving examples of late Art Deco Mills by architect Sir Alfred Gelder. Locally listed in 2009, they remain a historic landmark seen from across the city. 
In ABP’s current plans, the historic Mills are set to be levelled under permitted development rights (which do not require planning permission) to make way for increased storage areas. No detail has been made public on why these landmark buildings have to be demolished, given the extensive area of cleared land around them, or whether alternatives that seek their re-use have been considered at all.  

SAVE has added its voice to the campaign led by the City Council's heritage champion, Cllr. Sarah Bogle and local Freemantle Ward Cllr. Dave Shields. They have called on ABP to delay their imminent demolition plans and engage in dialogue about re-using the buildings as part of the Council’s masterplan for the city’s new ‘Mayflower Quarter’, and the current drafting of its new Local Plan.  

Ideas for reusing the Mills proposed by the campaign include possible conversion to a hotel or heritage centre to support the city’s rapidly growing tourist trade, offering lucrative views across Southampton’s famous waterfront. Other suggestions could see the Mills used as a local education or business centre, including spaces designed to attract the city’s expanding technology and higher education sectors.   
Councillor Sarah Bogle, Heritage Champion for the Council says: “‘The building is in a key location where the port meets the city and could be a new gateway to both the planned new cruise terminal and the Mayflower Quarter. Part of the building dates back to the 1930s and was designed by Sir Alfred Gelder; we need to build on that ambitious legacy as a city if we are serious about bidding for City of Culture 2025.”
Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage says: "The rush to demolish recalls the dreadful pre-emptive demolition of the Ocean Terminal at Southampton in the 1980s.  Had it survived it would be a star turn in Southampton's booming cruise business.  ABP needs to wake up to the way great industrial and transport landmarks can live again.
The Ocean Terminal closed in 1980, and was demolished shortly afterwards, having survived for just over 30 years. It missed out by a decade or so on the resurgence of Southampton as one of the key locations for the burgeoning cruise ship market, which is still growing.”
The successful retention and conversion of derelict Flour Mills is now a well-established phenomenon.  Other successful Mill conversions include The Baltic Flour Mills in Gateshead (by the same architect as Solent, Sir Alfred Gelder), now a highly acclaimed contemporary art gallery, The Old Flour Mill in the Wirral and Millennium Mills in London’s Docklands, both of which are being converted into apartments, and over in the US, The Pillsbury Flour Mills in Minneapolis, now converted into artist’s lofts.  
As the city approaches its bid for City of Culture 2025, Southampton’s rich heritage could play a pivotal role. Retaining such locally listed buildings would send a positive signal to the city’s people that the Council and ABP consider their industrial Heritage to be worthy of protecting, celebrating and reusing.


Note to editors

  1. For more information and images contact Ben Oakley, Conservation Officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage: / 020 7253 3500.
  2. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.