The Mechanics’ Institute – a hugely important building in Swindon’s heritage – could soon be back in public hands.
Swindon Borough Council could take the decision next week to begin the process of a compulsory purchase order to get the Grade II* listed building in Railway Village from its owner Matthew Singh.
The Mechanics, which dates from the middle of the 19th century, is in a poor state and had been behind hoardings for year. Now, it looks as if the council’s patience with Mr Singh had finally run out.
But, it has warned, part of the compulsory purchase order process is that a new user for the building must be identified before it starts, and that may yet be the stumbling block.
The borough council’s cabinet member for heritage issues Dale Heenan, has been working with Historic England and the Mechanics’ Institution Trust to identify a solution.
He said: “For the first time all of the right people are at the table collaborating and we can demonstrate that there is a sustainable future for one of Swindon’s most treasured assets.
“This will comprise a mixed-use facility that can accommodate a range of business, community and social functions such as weddings, proms, concerts, theatrical and other cultural uses.
“What’s more, there is a strategy to secure the necessary £24m for restoration.
“The Mechanics’ is a complex jigsaw – you work out which pieces have edges and join them, then slowly build up the picture.
“If you jump to trying to find the right pieces that fit in the centre of the picture, then you’ve made it 10 times more difficult. There is a plan and we are following it.
“Thanks to the collective efforts of Historic England, the Mechanics’ Institute Trust, Theatres Trust and the council, I am pleased to recommend to cabinet a way forward for the Mechanics’, and that includes authorising council officers to prepare whatever is required for a compulsory purchase order.”
Coun Heenan added: “It’s important to stress that for the next stage, we must have a third party in place before the CPO occurs.
“If anyone is interested, please come forward and make yourself known.”
Rebecca Barrett, regional director for Historic England said: “We know through experience that tackling historic buildings at risk takes partnership, imagination and perseverance.
“We have all of those in Swindon, with the right people around the table, all committed to finding a long term solution for this remarkable building.
“We will work with the council over the coming months to work up a robust plan to help bring the Mechanics’ Institute back to life.”