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BERKSWELL WINDMILL: Holiday-let plan for historic site

BERKSWELL WINDMILL: Holiday-let plan for historic site

Image: LDRS

Holidaymakers could have chance to let a cottage right next to one of Solihull’s most impressive landmarks.

Berkswell Windmill owner Jeanette McGarry has applied for permission to restore a badly crumbling outbuilding – believed to be some 200-years-old.

The ageing structure, which is in desperately need of renovations, is thought to have stored wheat or flour during the heyday of the neighbouring mill.

Carrying out restoration work and converting the premises into self-catering accommodation could create another source of income to help meet the ongoing costs of safeguarding the site’s future.

More than £200,000 was previously spent on rescuing the windmill, which was on the “buildings at risk” register when Ms McGarry bought it 17 years ago.

But a report says that the “constant” cost of its upkeep was considerable, with the structure now in need of a new brake wheel – likely to cost at least £25,000 – and replacement sails, worth another £20,000.

The planning statement notes that Historic England is currently facing “financial pressure” and was unlikely to be able to offer further grants; the charity had pumped £170,000 into the previous restoration project.

It went on: “The applicant feels passionately about the windmill … and she takes her responsibility as owner of a grade 2*-listed site further than simply ensuring that the building is watertight.

“It is important that the sails continue to turn and that the volunteers can mill flour.

“As the guardian of the mill [she wishes] to ensure that it remains in good order and able to mill flour for generations to come.”

By 2020 it was apparent the nearby outbuilding was itself in bad need of repair, with bricks falling out and the walls leaning.

Emergency repairs were needed to stabilise the structure and address safety concerns.

The application now seeks permission to fully restore the red-brick premises and make the holiday let plans a reality.

“We will show that the outbuilding can be restored to its former and original character and still perform a useful function to help in funding the future maintenance of the windmill,” the report concluded.

The application will be considered by Solihull Council in due course.

Berkswell Windmill factbox:

The iconic outline of Berkswell Windmill is probably one of the most famous in Solihull, having been a feature of the local landscape for two centuries.

The four-bladed structure closed shortly after the end of the Second World War, when the last miller, John Hammond, passed away.

It was previously restored during the 1970s but by the new Millennium was once again in an “extremely poor state of repair”, with trees growing out of the brick tower.

The Historic England grants and £30,000 of Ms McGarry’s own money saw the site restored to its former glory.

More recently the landmark has been at the centre of a bitter row over plans for new housing in Balsall Common, with fears that building an estate nearby will do huge damage to the historic setting.

With the council itself having recognised the value of the windmill to local tourism, some villagers have lobbied for it instead to become a key feature of a sprawling country park.

Words: David Irwin, Local Democracy Reporter


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