A high proportion of these buildings are not just of architectural value, but also are eminently suited to a range of other uses. Yet many will be lost if a concerted attempt to rescue them is not put in place.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a vast number of buildings up and down this country which through the process of industrial change, both urban and rural, and the reorganisation of the provision of health, defence and education, have become redundant or underused. A high proportion of these buildings are not just of architectural value, but also are eminently suited to a range of other uses. Yet many will be lost if a concerted attempt to rescue them is not put in place. It seems to me that the approaching Millennium celebrations offer a real opportunity to find imaginative new uses for some of these buildings.

In particular, the scale of the problem of reusing old industrial buildings is enormous. I am told, for example, there were originally around 2,400 mills in Greater Manchester alone, of which over half have already been lost.

It is now 15 years since SAVE's 'Satanic Mills' exhibition first raised public consciousness of the value of our industrial heritage. A number of triumphs have been achieved in the wake of this, including:

Dean Clough, in Halifax

Salt's Mill, at Saltaire in West Yorkshire

Victoria Mill, in Manchester 

Ebley Mill, in Stroud

The two examples I have seen here this morning are both very encouraging. The way the old mill at the top end of Cromford has been converted into a Venture Centre for young people shows what can be done with a smaller industrial building. I do want to congratulate all those involved, and particularly Michael Thornton, for this marvellous initiative.

The challenge here at the main Cromford Mill is enormous - but I have been enormously encouraged to see what has been achieved by the Arkwright Society so far. It is particularly interesting that 90 jobs have been created on the site. Today, English Heritage have announced a grant of up to £500,000 to support this work at Cromford with an immediate offer of £90,000 for the next phase. This is excellent news and will, I hope, be of some assistance in what you are trying to do here.

Ladies and gentlemen, these sort of projects show that the future for old industrial buildings is far from hopeless. The great thing about these particular buildings is that they can usually be highly flexible, and allow a diversity of activities to take place. Among current uses for restored old mills include business space, educational facilities, studio space for artists and designers, tourist facilities, and residential or hotel accommodation.

The other interesting thing, I think, that has happened since the first SAVE exhibition is that there has been a real sea-change in public opinion towards mills. Once derided, like so many fine Victorian and Edwardian buildings, mills are now often viewed with affection, as landmarks in their local communities, with the potential to be a focal point for regeneration schemes.

However, the magnitude of the problem remains enormous and the individuals or organisations with the expertise, vision and determination to make mill regeneration projects a reality remain too few. In many cases, I suspect, people feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the challenge they face.

It is frankly rather extraordinary that, in the country which gave birth to the industrial revolution, the preservation of these vitally important buildings has very often been left either to particular individuals of great vision, like Sir Ernest Hall at Dean Clough, or small groups of enthusiastic amateurs. All I can say, ladies and gentlemen, is thank God these individuals and groups exist, because without their dedication the situation would be even more perilous! I have been delighted to meet some of you today.

Here at Cromford is, of course, arguably where the industrial revolution began. Perhaps English Heritage's aspiration to make Cromford Mill a World Heritage Site will help remind people of the significance of this particular part of our inheritance. I do hope this will happen (and was interested to see this idea first came from the Duke of Devonshire).

Of course, English Heritage is now very active in the area of old industrial buildings. I know, for example, that it has made enormous efforts to achieve the listing and restoration of the most important examples of mill architecture in Greater Manchester. We all look forward to their completion of similar exercises in Lancashire, West Yorkshire, the East Midlands and Cheshire. However, listing alone is not enough to ensure the survival even of the most important examples of this architecture. It is only through the sustained commitment of expertise, effort and investment that we shall see real progress.

Through Business in the Community I have been taking soundings on all this during the last few months. The best way, I now believe, to harness the necessary ingredients for success with the enthusiasm which undoubtedly exists, is to develop a small but highly effective central body which brings together in partnership all the key organisations who can make a difference in this area.

The group drawn together today, under the leadership of Business in the Community, sets out to ensure that such commitment of resource is brought together. I hope it will make a substantial impact on the number of industrial building conversion projects that are successfully brought to completion.

The Group represents a spectrum of expertise and interests in conservation and regeneration. It includes representatives of The Architectural Heritage fund, The Civic Trust, English Heritage, The Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies at York and SAVE. It also includes individuals from the business world with enormous expertise in the promotion, funding and delivery of projects.

I am particularly delighted that Mr Bill Castell of Amersham International has agreed to be the chairman.

This new joint initiative will work with local groups to bring forward a significant number of industrial building regeneration projects - I would hope at least 20 by the Millennium.

I hope this will be achieved by making the expertise that has been developed over the last two decades available to promoters of projects up and down the country, through the establishment of an 'expert panel' able to provide advice from their experience of mill projects. In particular, I hope, the panel will work with local groups to put together some really first-rate - unstoppable I hope! - bids to the Lottery.

In addition, we shall make information on the building stock, developers, grants and funds more widely available.

All the partners bring something to the mix. Business in the Community, for example, will bring access to their local investment fund, which is seeking to bridge the funding gap between grant-giving bodies and mainstream commercial finance.

The Architectural Heritage Fund brings a comprehensive programme of support to voluntary sector project promoters including feasibility grants, project administration grants and project funding.

The Civic Trust, SAVE and the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies bring a wealth of experience and technical assistance.

The new Group will be approaching the Heritage Lottery Fund to seek to establish and resource this initiative.

Incidentally, I am pleased to report that the Fund tell me they are exploring the possibilities of a more flexible approach towards mill feasibility studies and project development costs, recognising that this may be the best way to support community initiatives in this field. This would mean that they would consider the costs of detailed studies, once some initial work has been undertaken and an outline application has been submitted.

Also, in this context, because I know feasibility studies have become something of an issue, I am delighted to announce today that English Heritage and the DNH have committed £50,000 for the funding of feasibility studies for the reuse of selected mills in the Greater Manchester area.

Ladies and gentlemen, the compelling case for the creative reuse of these buildings has now been recognised to the extent that proposals for the regeneration of the outstanding complex of mills at Ancoats in Manchester as an urban village have just been awarded a £6 million Single Regeneration Budget Grant. This just shows that substantial public funding is available to make these projects happen. I just hope we can provide the catalyst to build other strong, well-founded projects that will successfully attract similar financial resources.

I intend to take a particularly close interest in this initiative, and hope we can meet in the autumn, perhaps at another mill, to see where we have got to. In the meantime, I do wish every one of you, particularly all those involved in the marvellous partnership here at Cromford, every possible success. I am delighted to be able to support your efforts."