Water mills no longer viable

It is regrettable that the current battle between Sustainable Bakewell, with its plans to harness water power at Victoria Mill, and the local fishing and ecology interests, runs the risk of clouding the important issue of how we can best begin to use the historic water power resources of the River Wye.

Some years ago, I was commissioned to carry out a feasibility study for the adaptation of the former water wheel pit at the Mill to house a water turbine.

My conclusions were that there were just too many problems associated with supplying the turbine with a useful flow and head of water, to make such a project either economically worthwhile or environmentally acceptable. It may be argued that with the introduction of Feed in Tariffs, the economic case is now strengthened but no mitigation can be offered to overcome the significant effects such a scheme would have on the ecology of the water course from the corn mill weir to the tail race at Milford.

Sustainable Bakewell has chosen the wrong site.

The catchments of the Wye and the Derwent have provided probably since Roman, certainly since Anglo Saxon times, sites where, with the use of a water wheel, useful works and processes could be carried out beyond the capability of manual labour, corn milling, cloth fulling, iron and lead smelting, and from the late 18th Century onwards the spinning of cotton. Some of these sites remain intact or survive in part, as the engineering works which were needed to gather and harness the power of the river, some of them may yet offer the possibility of re-use with a modern water turbine instead of a slow and inefficient water wheel, but many with their buildings gone or decayed and nature having taken over, their water works remain only as monuments of interest to the industrial archaeologist, the fisherman or the naturalist.

The Friends of the Peak District, in their 2010 report Peak Power: developing hydro power in the Peak District identified over 150 such sites. Whilst their report identified Victoria Mill as one such site it cannot be assumed that its original water power generating use can be simply re-instated.

Any examination of the site will show that numerous alterations have been made to it and its water courses since it was last in use.

Since many of the sites identified in the FPD Report ceased operation, a host of legislation has been introduced to protect historic buildings and sites, the ecology of their surroundings from plants to mammals, and the effects of any developments on the wider historic landscape.

It may have to be accepted that for many potential sites these constraints outweigh the perceived advantages of exploiting the green energy they appear to offer.

It seems to me that Sustainable Bakewell have been carried away by the green energy arguments for their hydro power scheme, rather than effecting an holistic approach to a project which has the potential to adversely affect this delightful reach of the River Wye.

Patrick Strange