The future of Broadford Works has been hurled into uncertainty – as Aberdeen planners call time on a multi-million-pound housing scheme at the historic site.
Plans to redevelop the iconic former Richards textiles factory as hundreds of homes have unravelled, The Press and Journal can reveal.
New ideas for the derelict A-listed complex have been promised in “due course”.
But for now the crumbling industrial monument, closed in 2004, lies in wait.
Scarred by fire-raisers and a haven for urban explorers, the 19th century plant remains the largest collection of at-risk listed buildings in Scotland.
Time up for grand housing plans at Broadford Works
Ferness Investment Holdings has let the clock wind down on planning permission for 890 homes at Broadford Works, first granted in 2016.
The Guernsey-based firm had unveiled vast proposals for the long-deserted mill in Aberdeen.
Plans, drawn up with InHabit – a company since dissolved – included 460 homes and another 430 student bedrooms.
Early visions also included restaurants, bars, nurseries, cafes, shops, offices and even an art gallery.
Property consultants Ryden valued the project at £120 million.
Since 2016, planning permission has been kept alive with various updates from the developers.
Demolition of the historic Grey Mill, built in 1808, was approved in 2018.
In 2016, architects Hurd Rolland estimated it would cost upwards of £11.5m to retain the Grey Mill, the world’s fourth oldest iron-framed building.
Before the rampant inflation of recent years, it was thought demolition would cost around £1.1m.
The Broadford Works planning saga is long and winding.
It is so hard to keep track of that Aberdeen City Council planners thought permission had already expired in March, when Covid planning exemptions came to an end.
But the last planning application for the Maberly Street site was rubber-stamped in October 2020.
That gave developers three years to begin work – with time running out on October 20.
Ferness housing plans will come to nothing
But spades have never broken ground.
And The P&J can reveal that they will not in the near future, as planning permission is allowed to expire.
For months, sources close to the project have warned of “ongoing viability issues”.
“The spiralling costs are making it very difficult to stack up,” The P&J was told.
It is a problem suffered in Aberdeen’s own big-money projects, with costs of house-building and regeneration work in the city centre also increasing by millions.
Now, a spokesman for Ferness has gone on the record fronting up to the problems.
He said: “The current consent for the site is unfortunately not deliverable in its current form.
“We are though fully committed to the site.
“We are working with our project team to help shape and inform future proposals which we hope to discuss with the council and the local community in due course.”
A new blow in regeneration story
It is the latest setback for those living near the crumbling factory, who want it made safe and brought back to life.
King Charles III was personally involved in the work of his Prince’s Regeneration Trust, which helped housing plans gain Scottish Government approval in 2013.
Aberdeen City Council had previously rejected a number of housing schemes on the site, which is 3.5 acres and containing around 100 separate buildings.
But the charity withdrew support in 2015 when it became apparent the land was to be sold by then-owner Ian Suttie.
For 150 years before his ownership, the Broadford Works plant was home to Richards of Aberdeen – a textile company he bought in 2002 when it was in receivership.
What would you like to see done with Aberdeen’s Broadford Works? Let us know in the comments section below
Who will steer Broadford Works through the uncertainty?
Broadford Works changed hands in 2017, after planning permission had been secured.
But it is unclear who will be making decisions on the Aberdeen landmark’s future.
Ferness Investment Holdings Ltd registered as an overseas entity with the UK Government in February, based in tax haven Guernsey.
Spaniard Carman Gonzalez, 55, holds “significant influence or control” of the company, which has no named directors listed on Companies House.
A search of the UK business registry brings up more than 120,000 results for companies using the same address at Windsor House in St Peter Port as their base.
Trust and corporate services firm Calmco Trustees, based in Nicosia in Cyprus, has at least a 25% stake in Ferness.
Aberdeen City Council unveiled new work on its masterplan for nearby George Street earlier this week.
But Broadford Works, still earmarked for redevelopment, was not included.
‘So many folk want Broadford Works brought back into use’
George Street and Harbour SNP councillor Michael Hutchison urged new plans to be shared for the at-risk Broadford Works – and fast.
He told The P&J: “The situation at Broadford Works has improved a lot under Ferness’ ownership, with proper security being put in place which seems to have brought a halt to the fire-raising.
“The site does need to come back into use though. It’s a huge space, and an important part of our history, so it’s sad that it remains closed off from the city.
“I met with (now defunct) InHabit previously and I understand that this would be a challenging project at the best of times.
“I hope that something will come forward soon because I know so many folk here want to see that space brought back into use.”
More on Broadford Works and the former Richards plant:
- The story behind Aberdeen’s weirdest building – and why it may be the only one of its kind on the planet
- Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums spun us a yarn about the former Richards factory