Published: 11:00, 23 February 2015
A campaign is under way to stop one of Maidstone’s most historic industrial sites being lost to high-density housing.
The Springfield papermill has been producing paper - most recently high quality medical filters - for more than 200 years.
As Whatman plc, it was the town’s oldest company, but its current international owner, GE Healthcare Group, is in the process of winding down the site, with production being transferred to Sweden and Asia.
It once employed 1,000 people, but it’s down to just a few dozen at present.
The fear is that the site will be sold for housing, and the plot has been allocated for 500 homes in Maidstone council’s draft Local Plan.
Sandling Road residents Richard Baldwin and Catherine Metcalf argue the land that is so key to the town’s industrial heritage should not be lost.
Mr Baldwin said: “Paper-making has been the backbone of the town in the past and employed more people than any other local business during its growth.
“In particular it has been Springfield Mill and the Whatman paper company and its founder James Whatman that has put Maidstone on the world map.”
He said: “We want to save our architectural heritage from the bulldozers, not to mention saving the natural habitat and flood plains and the unscathed skyline that is enjoyed by the local community.”
The couple have launched a Facebook page and an e-petition to save the buildings.
On Saturday, they held a meeting with other residents and met their ward councillor, Tony Harwood (Lib Dem), to discuss further steps.
Meanwhile, Maidstone Borough Council’s officer Mike Parkinson has written to English Heritage asking that the whole industrial site be listed, because of its intrinsic value to the history of paper-making.
A listing would not necessarily reserve the buildings in their entirety, but would ensure that developers would have to retain the key historic elements. Two of the town’s other famous papermills - Hayle Mill - home to Bockingford paper - and Turkey Mill, the original home of the Whatman company, were both listed, which has protected them against demolition.
Mr Baldwin suggested the site could be made into a working industrial museum to showcase Maidstone’s paper-making industry.
He said: “The site - on the riverbank - is the ideal location for tourism. It’s one of the prettiest parts of Maidstone.”
Cllr Harwood said: “Such an intact and iconic industrial complex is a remarkable survival, and truly the jewel in the crown of Kent and England’s paper-making heritage.
"The inter-relationship between the Springfield Mill complex and nearby Alfred Waterhouse Gothic Revival mansion built for the Balston family at Springfield is also hugely significant and should clearly be preserved.
“Without a listing, there is a very real potential for this iconic site to be cleared to accommodate comprehensive re-development, thus sweeping away a nationally and internationally significant industrial heritage asset that defines the County Town of Kent.”
*Readers can sign the petition on https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-maidstone-historic-springfield-mill-from-high-density-housing