PLANS to develop an historic site in Barnsley - deemed to be one of the best-preserved examples of Cluniac architecture in Europe - are being slowed by its status as a high-risk flood area, it’s been revealed.

The Grade I-listed Monk Bretton Priory, off Grange Lane, is currently in the custodianship of English Heritage but owned by Barnsley Council.

While a number of the council’s outdoor heritage sites have seen rises in footfall over lockdown, the 12th century former Cluniac monastery has remained relatively untouched - apart from occasional visits by site key-holder Darrell Haywood, part of the Friends of Monk Bretton Priory group, and smatterings of walkers.

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The priory, and nearby Mill of the Black Monks, were discussed at a recent overview and scrunity committee meeting.

Cabinet spokesperson for regeneration and culture Coun Tim Cheetham said plans for redevelopment - which would cover both historically-inseperable buildings - were not able to commence until councillors could get the area reclassified by the Environment Agency.

“It’s got fantastic potential, but the difficulty we have is the Environment Agency class a large part of that area as a high-rated flood zone,” said Coun Cheetham.

“The priory itself doesn’t flood, but most of the access points do.

“It’s very hard to get that status changed and the Environment Agency won’t budge.

“We understand why, particularly in light of the floods we’ve had over the last few years.

“Part of the investment in the budget for this year around Lang Avenue is partly to demonstrate we can do some stuff further down the line, if we can get them to make those changes and give us a bit more leeway.”

Monk Bretton Coun Ken Richardson added any flooding in the area isn’t connected to the priory, but is a drainage issue.

Cudworth Coun Charlie Wraith, who lives in the area, added: “I can’t understand what was said about flooding - I have lived near Monk Bretton Priory all my life and it’s at the bottom end of the street, nowhere near the ruins.”

Lang Avenue, a short distance from the priory, has been earmarked to receive £1m for flood resilience works after residents have been repeatedly hit by severe flooding from the nearby River Dearne.

That street, alongside the whole priory site, is in the second-highest flood risk category.

Areas directly adjacent to the river are in flood zone three - the highest category - while directly next to the Mill of the Black Monks is a flood storage area made to limit the impact when the river bursts its banks.

“We have never experienced any problems at the priory, even in terms of waterlogging, in all the years we’ve been there,” said Friends of Monk Bretton Priory chairman Ian Stevenson.

“We feel there must be some sort of mistake in the classification.

“Residents do need protection down there, as does the Mill of the Black Monks.”

Cluniac Federation visitors said the priory is one of the clearest and best-preserved sites they’ve visited in Europe, added Ian.

Monks there built what’s now the Mill of the Black Monks pub and restaurant in roughly 1150AD.

That building’s owner, architect Malcolm Lister, is campaigning for support in revising the building’s Grade II listing to Grade II* - which would afford it greater protection - having already brought it back from disrepair in the 1980s.

“If we are going to develop the priory, we need the Mill of the Black Monks developing as well,” added Coun Cheetham.

“There’s a clear relationship between the two, and that would lever in tremendous amounts of investment - particularly private investment, as it’s a more commercial development.”