Visits to historic sites in Yorkshire double in four years

The Piece Mill in Halifax
The Piece Mill in Halifax

If, as the author LP Hartley observed, the past is a foreign country, figures out put Yorkshire up there with the Spanish costas.

Its history has become a huge commercial asset, with the number of sightseers making day trips to signature buildings almost doubling in just four years, according to a report.

The so-called heritage economy is now worth nearly £2bn a year to the region, and extends beyond tourism to the regeneration of old sites for new housing and workplaces.

The annual audit from Historic England, the government body whose umbrella encompasses beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops, reveals that tourists made 20m day trips to heritage sites in the county in 2016, compared to 11m in 2012.

Domestic and international visitors to old buildings, monuments and attractions spent £880m during the most recent year for which figures are available, the organisation said.

The audit also reveals that the conversion of pre-First World War properties created 2,210 new homes in Yorkshire between 2012 and 2018, taking the total to 524,020.

Developments of old sites in Halifax and Leeds are among those to have generated new wealth, Historic England said.

Trevor Mitchell, the organisation’s regional planning director, said Yorkshire’s history was among its most valuable assets.

“The significant rise in the number of people making heritage-related day visits in the region is good news. We have rich heritage for people to enjoy,” he said.

“These figures show the value that heritage brings to the region. But it’s not just about money. Heritage has a number of social benefits – it can help to create a sense of identity and belonging for communities.”

Nationally, the value of the heritage sector increased by more than a third between 2011 and 2016, and is now worth £29bn – around two per cent of all the country’s goods and services.

An extra 51,000 new homes were created in pre-1919 buildings during the last six years, with nearly a quarter of all England’s homes dating from the First World War or before.

The heritage sector employs 459,000 people, 18 per cent more than in 2011, with 16,640 of the jobs in Yorkshire.

But the audit says there remain areas on which to build, with 1,350 under-used or vacant textile mills in West Yorkshire identified for redevelopment. Taken with a similar number in Greater Manchester and Lancashire, there is potential for 283,000 new jobs or 52,000 new homes, Heritage England says.

It says the Duke Studios development, in a conservation area near Leeds Dock, which houses 75 businesses in the creative sector, is an example of heritage coming back to life.

“The space celebrates the factory heritage with exposed beams, brickwork and re-use of features like machinery as a splash back in the kitchen and leather remnants used as features on kitchen cupboards,” the report says.

It also praises the University Business Centre at Piece Mill in Halifax, a converted textile warehouse which now offers space for small businesses and advice for start-ups.

Leeds Beckett University, Calderdale Council and a private developer combined to turn the building into a hub for businesses less than three years old.