A TRAILBLAZING scheme to transform an old Otley mill into a water, sun and biomass-fuelled tourist attraction has received a ringing endorsement from councillors.

The plan by Sustainable and Renewable Energy (Sure) in Wharfedale would see part of Garnett’s riverside site turned into a self-sustaining alternative technology centre powered by, among other things, hydro-electric turbines in the River Wharfe.

Sure chairman Andy Walker, who unveiled the proposals to Otley Town Council on Monday, said the project could also provide a bigger home for Otley Museum — creating a double attraction that would excite national interest.

He told the environment and tourism committee: “This centre for alternative technology in the town would essentially be a place where there are examples of the many kinds of sustainable and renewable energies.

“It would, in itself, be a tourist attraction and have national significance. Based in the lovely town of Otley near the ends of the motorway, it could attract a great deal of interest.

“One of the places we thought it could be located was Garnett’s Mill, and the step of approaching Garnett’s has started. Though they haven’t said yes, they have said ‘maybe’.

“Also on that large site there could well be some sustainable homes built and the hotel — part of a mixed use development by Otley Riverside Holdings that is in the pipeline for part of the site — could be one of the few, if not the only, hotel in Britain that was completely heated by sustainable energy.

“Some of that energy generated could be contributed to the National Grid, generating income.

“There are some very large spaces there and it has been suggested some of the buildings could be put to other community uses —— workshops, cinema, music events. And, perhaps, Otley Museum could find a home there and we could see a large number of tourists coming to the town.”

Mr Walker said the centre’s buildings would be powered using everything from hydro-electricity, by restoring turbines previously used by Garnett’s paper mill, to solar panels, biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps.

The scheme, run by a social enterprise company, would involve refurbishing the main mill buildings to provide examples of how successfully old properties could be made energy-efficient.

Mr Walker believes Sure could attract funding for the project from a range of sources, including Yorkshire Forward, Future Energy Yorkshire, Key Fund Yorkshire and European Regional Development Fund.

The town mayor, Councillor Jim Spencer, hailed the proposal. He said: “This is really exciting. It’s very important we try to achieve this in the modern environment we find ourselves in, with global warming perhaps the biggest threat we have in the world.

“We really ought to support this and do everything we can to help this take place.”

He acknowledged there would be a lot of funding and planning obstacles to overcome and a lot of “wet blankets” talking down the idea.

But he added: “When you’ve got real enthusiasm, like Sure has, it’s very interesting to see how many people move out of the way.”

Coun Neville Birch said: “It’s a brilliant idea and I give it my 100 per cent support.”

The Garnett paper mill (originally P Garnett & Son Ltd) has been a feature of Otley’s riverside for more than 270 years, where it occupies a large site near Mill Lane.

A globally respected paper-making company for centuries, it ended paper production in 2005, and in recent years the business has changed to focus on paper finishing as Garnett UK Papers Limited.

Committee chairman Lawrence Ross, summing up the mood of his colleagues, said. “One of the reasons it’s so exciting is that there’s an almost ready-made hydro electric power station there, as Garnett’s were using a couple of turbines until only a few months ago.

“This is a potential win-win for both Sure and the museum because it would make an extremely interesting visitor centre, showing both the Otley of yesterday and of tomorrow, the past and the future.

“We’re very much in favour of having such a thing here, together with the hydro-electric scheme, which could be done even if the alternative energy centre isn’t physically there.

“The Garnett’s plan is a wonderful long-term ambition but in the short term we could also work with Sure to look for some ready-made premises both for an alternative energy centre and the museum.”

The committee agreed to write to Sure giving their official backing to the scheme.

Otley Riverside Holdings’ residential, office and hotel scheme for 15 acres of the site, a development Garnett’s says will fund its move to Whiteley’s Mill, at Pool-in-Wharfedale, and secure its long-term future, gained outline planning approval in 2006.

Formed as a co-operative in October 2008, Sure aims to help Wharfedale residents find practical ways of reducing both their fuel bills and their energy consumption. Membership of the group is open to all residents and businesses in the area.