Consultation opens on possible sale/community takeover of eight county windmills including Drapers Mill in Margate

Drapers Windmill open weekend

Kent County Council (KCC) is now consulting on proposals for eight public windmills, including Drapers Mill in Margate,  in a bid to save the authority money.

KCC currently owns the freehold of the mills which are all listed buildings of high grade and were acquired by KCC 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.

The county council is looking to find alternative arrangements for the ownership, which may include transfer of the financial responsibility, of the eight windmills .

While no decisions have yet been made, if the move is given the go-ahead KCC says it would achieve a saving of about £800,000 up until 2029.

Photo Clare Campbell

The windmills under consideration as part of this consultation are Chillenden Mill; Union Mill, Cranbrook; Herne Mill; Drapers Mill, Margate; Meopham Mill; Davison’s Mill, Stelling Minnis; West Kingsdown Mill and Stocks Mill, Wittersham.

KCC says its priority is to offer the opportunity to community groups to take on the windmills. If this does not prove possible then alternative options will be explored/

A report to county councillors said: “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.”

KCC’s Deputy Cabinet Member for Environment, Tony Hills, said: “We are proposing to change the ownership arrangements of the eight windmills that are currently owned by KCC, which would allow us to contribute towards closing our budget gap.

“This would allow us to make a reduction in our day-to-day spending of the amount going towards running costs and maintenance for the windmills.

“No final decisions will be made until all the information and views collected through this consultation are reviewed.”

Picture: 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.

Drapers Windmill Trust chairman Steve Villette said earlier this month: “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.”

Have your say

You can have your say by visiting www.kent.gov.uk/windmillsconsultation before midnight on Monday 29th January.

If you have any questions or require any of the consultation material in hard copy, please email [email protected].

For alternative formats and languages, please email [email protected] or call 03000 421553 (text relay service number: 18001 03000 42 15 53). This number goes to an answering machine, which is monitored during office hours.

1 Comment

  1. Maybe they could consider not throwing obscene amounts at Dreamland & Turner every year, rather than worrying about a piddling amount over the next five years? No? Thought not.

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