Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hilary Benn visited Lydiard Park on 14 April to promote the Labour party’s opposition to any form of sale of the house and the park, or its transfer to management by a trust.
Labour councillors and election candidates launched a petition in February calling on Swindon Council to ensure the town’s most important heritage site is retained under council responsibility.
They’ve been highlighting concerns that the house and park is being considered as suitable for long term lease. In a separate programme, Swindon Council is offering its leisure centres and golf courses to management companies or not-for-profit organisations on 99 year leases.
Mr Benn said: "Local authorities are having to take tough decisions, whatever party runs them, but if cuts are to be made, you need to be open with people about your plans. I am fully in support of the campaign by Swindon’s Labour Group to ensure Lydiard Park remains within council control. It’s the first time I’ve been here; it’s a wonderful place and it would be utterly wrong to see it fall into the hands of the private sector."
South Swindon Parliamentary candidate Anne Shelgrove, pictured above with Mr Benn by Richard Wintle of Calyx, said: "We don’t yet know what Swindon Council has in mind for the Lydiard estate, they have not yet confirmed if it will stay in council control.
Left, Hilary Benn meeting Swindon Labour councillors and candidates as well as members of the Better Swindon campaigning group Photo: Calyx
"The house and park are a very important heritage asset and much loved by the people of Swindon. I don’t agree with the idea of a trust taking on management as it will be put beyond the direct responsibility of the council and vulnerable to undemocratic decision making.
"I regret to say that the behaviour of the present administration at Swindon Council has generated enormous suspicion amongst resident’s of the town. They really don’t trust what the council is up to. We need full, honest and transparent discussion about the future of Lydiard Park."
The Conservative administration have hit back at accusations that a sell off is being considered.
Leader of the council David Renard told a full meeting of the council on 4 April that there are no circumstances where Lydiard Park would be offered to the private sector. He said: “The park is subsidised to a significant extent. In a time when the public purse is stretched it is the responsible thing to look at ways to reduce this subsidy.
“I can categorically say we are not looking to put the park in private hands and I don’t think there is any member in the chamber who would support that decision.”
Right, Lydiard House in the park restored with Heritage Lottery funding