County council to discuss sale of eight windmills, including Drapers Mill in Margate

Drapers Windmill

Eight public windmills owned by Kent County Council, including Drapers Mill in Margate, may be sold in a bid to save the authority money.

KCC currently owns the freehold of eight historic windmills across the county. All the mills are designated (listed) buildings of high grade and were acquired by KCC as ‘owner of last resort’ between the late 1950s and the mid-1980s.

Drapers Windmill ‘s day to day operations are looked after by the Drapers Windmill Trust. The Trust first restored the mill to working order in the early 70s and gave it to KCC as an educational resource available to everyone. It  is one of two in the county, alongside Cranbrook Mill, that is capable of milling flour by wind power.

Kent County Council says it is facing increasing budget pressure and is exploring all options to reduce costs, concentrating on those services it is obliged to provide.

Over six years from April 2023 to the end of March 2029, the total cost of the programme to maintain and improve the condition of the windmills is estimated at £853,120.

Drapers Mill Photo Sinead Le Blond

A report to councillors says: “Divestment of each of the eight sites was identified as the most financially advantageous option for KCC. By identifying alternative ownership arrangements for each of the sites, KCC would save the annual costs associated with maintaining the buildings in a safe and accessible condition.

“Most of the mills are now, or soon will be, in a good state of repair which makes this the right time to pass them on to new owners. Community based owners would also be eligible for a wider range of grants than currently available to KCC. It is therefore not just in KCC’s interests that the mills find new owners but potentially in the best interest of the mills themselves.”

The report adds: “KCC should prioritise divestment of those mills that can be readily brought to the market, or where existing long-term leases could be handed over to tenants. In the first instance KCC would explore whether existing interested parties would be able to take on responsibility for ownership of the mills.

“Community groups would be able to register the mills as assets of community value and KCC would work with the volunteer groups and/or the parish councils to help them put together a bid.”

Photo Frank Leppard

Drapers Mill was built in 1845 by John Holman, a millwright from Canterbury.

There were originally three mills on the site, two to grind corn and one to pump water. Little Draper’s stood next door to the surviving mill and the Pumper was where the allotments to the rear of the mill now exist.

The mill was worked by wind power until 1916 and then by a 20 horsepower gas engine until the late 1930s, with the sweeps and fantail being removed in 1927.

In 1965 the mills were threatened with demolition due to disrepair but then headmaster of Drapers Mills School, Mr Towes, helped establish the Drapers Windmill Trust and  secured the restoration and future of Drapers Mill.

In 1968 the Kent Education Committee acquired the mill, which was restored at a cost of over £2000. The fantail was replaced in 1970 with one pair of sweeps following in December 1971. The second pair of sweeps were fitted in the autumn of 1974.

Picture: Frank Leppard

The mill is now in the care of Kent County Council which is fully supported by the Drapers Windmill Trust. The Trust is responsible for the day to day running and restoration with larger projects financed by the authority,

Windpower was returned to the mill following major restoration works by Kent County Council during 2017-2019. A project to refurbish the cap and vane at Drapers Mill was completed in 2018 and it was fully operational in 2021.

The report says the mill has had capital spend on it since 2019 of £66,233 and still need further major work to make it fully weatherproof. Future capital spend between now and 2029 on the mill is estimated at £266,955.

A conclusion in the report to councillors says: “It has been determined that retaining this asset group is not financially sustainable for KCC.

“Divestment of each of the eight windmill sites was identified as the most financially advantageous option for KCC. By identifying alternative ownership arrangements for each of the windmills, KCC would save the annual costs associated with maintaining the buildings in a safe and accessible condition.”

A public consultation will be required in advance of a final decision.

Drapers Windmill Trust chairman Steve Villette said: “This was a shock to the Drapers Windmill Trust. We hope that our relationship with KCC does not end, in spite of the financial pressures to do otherwise.”The ‘Windmill Estate’ (KCC’s name for their windmills) will require some ongoing maintenance, but as nothing compared to their other services.

“In return there have been 1000’s of hours of volunteer input keep them safe and accessible to all.

“These monuments to our farming and engineering heritage cannot be allowed to fall into private hands; one only has to look at the current dereliction of Sarre windmill to demonstrate the insecurity of such a future.”

County Councillor Barry Lewis, who represents Margate, said: “This is another example of KCC not knowing the value of the beautiful edifices of Kent and they are potentially going to destroy our unique heritage and our landscape.”

County councillors will discuss the report on Wednesday (November 15).

26 Comments

  1. What is it coming to ,All KCC and TDC
    Council want to do is keep selling everything ,what’s going to happen when the Councils run out of things to sell,
    Probably start on Council housing

    • Ever reducing central government funding means councils need to concentrate on statutory duties and not ‘niceties’ – how else you you suggest they solve the funding issues?

      • Just remember the blame for all these cutbacks by councils is central government. There have been huge cutbacks in funding from central government to local authorities and at the same time increases in the cost of the services local authorities legally have to provide. There’s basically little money left for anything else.

    • TDC are currently building 440 affordable rented Social Houses, the rent from which, sustainability, will enable them to build more.

  2. I thought it was in private hands.

    Has the owner of that house in the 3rd picture seen the graffiti on its wall. Disgraceful

  3. Let’s hope it is looked after better than the one at Sarre. The sails have been missing for years, despite the owners being told to put them back,

    • We’re not allowed to speak of it. So we’ll never know.
      (Hint: the Tories have been cutting taxes whilst increasing Local Authority responsibility for things such as child welfare. As there’s not enough money coming in, the family silver has to get sold)

  4. Great more assets and local heritage being flogged off on the cheap to end up redeveloped as some God awful new build hamster cage housing. Might as well concrete over the whole isle and build , build , build.

  5. 853 grand for all of them over six years. Yet every year they give millions to Dreamland & Turner & have no intention of stopping.

      • They spend on things that give a return like large visitor numbers, the windmills together probably get as many visitors in a year as the other examples do in a week !

        • Why do you need to give money to venues with high visitors numbers ?

          Here’s an idea let the venues with high visitors numbers to charge an entrance fee. Than the money saved can go on our country’s heritage.

  6. Interesting. When was that and what was her name at the time?

    I remember Miss Hart who owned the mill in the 1950s selling eggs and animal food as well as sweets on Fridays!

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