Organisations wanting to run Lydiard House & Park have until Friday 11 December to register their interest in taking on the responsibility.
But in the week that commercial organisations and trusts who want to run historic Lydiard House and Park have to register their interest in taking over management from Swindon Council, the Friends of Lydiard Park has seen a borough council document setting out the criteria by which such interest will be assessed.
However Swindon councillor Garry Perkins, who is responsible for exploring alternative management structures for the house and park, says the burden of running the park has to be removed from council taxpayers without damaging what makes Lydiard special to Swindon.
Because of central government reframing of grants to local authorities, the council has to save £10million from its budget in 2016/17 and £60million by 2020. Lydiard Park was identified in 2013 as an asset to be outsourced to the private sector or a not-for-profit charitable body.
The council says it has to eliminate the £450,000 subsidy of park operations, but because Lydiard Park and Steam Museum costs are combined, the Friends believe the subsidy is more like £250,000 and has called for the last five years accounts for both Lydiard and Steam to be made public.
The council has registered Lydiard House and Park as an Asset of Community Value and have made it clear that it will not be sold. In October, independent property advisors Bilfinger GVA advertised the opportunity to become a council partner in the operation of Lydiard in three property journals. The public were invited to two engagement events on 18 and 22 November to find out views on what might happen to the park, in advance of a public consultation exercise early in the New Year.
The Friends of Lydiard Park, who have acted as advocate and fundraiser for the house and park for over 50 years, has set out 11 red lines to protect the future of Lydiard House and Park. A petition seeking support to these objections was launched on 27 November which has attracted over 6,293 signatures (as at 9 December).
Now someone close to the Conservative run council has shown the Friends an internal document being used as part of the outsourcing process. Called ‘The Phase 1 Assessment Criteria’ it states that proposals submitted by possible management partners in their Expressions of Interest ‘must retain some access for the people of Swindon.’
The revelation has horrified Friends of Lydiard Park chair Mike Bowden who said: “The notion that there be ‘some access’ is utterly shocking and lays bare the real plans that lie behind the current process that is proving so unpopular with the people of Swindon.
“This phrase makes it explicitly clear that reduced public access to the house and park is envisaged in the future. The fact that our petition opposing the outsourcing of the house and/or park is well on the way to 4,000 signatories illustrates the huge concern and uncertainty felt by people who deeply love the house and park.
“Why does the council criteria talk of ‘some access’ rather than simply stating the same or broadly the same access that people have now?
“We have raised numerous concerns about the process which have been ignored by the leader of the council Councillor David Renard and Councillor Garry Perkins, the cabinet member responsible for the Lydiard Park process. The silence has been both deafening and disrespectful to both the Friends and the thousands who have supported the petition.
“What we are seeing is an example of municipal vandalism. This document confirms our very worst suspicions; Cllrs Renard and Perkins should come clean and bring this process to a halt.”
“To be fair to the council Cllr Perkins has been quoted in the Swindon Advertiser online as saying he personally agreed with all our red lines. The Friends still await confirmation from the Leader of the Council whether he agrees with Cllr Perkins’ position.
“The Friends of Lydiard Park remain committed to assisting the council in reducing the subsidy to Lydiard, avoiding the possibility of their outsourcing this important community asset.”
Cllr Perkins would not comment on the leaked Assessment Criteria document, saying it had been obtained illegally, but expressed frustration that the council’s intentions for Lydiard House and Park were being misrepresented.
He said: “I spent several hours talking to people at the public engagement event on 18 November and the vast majority understand the very difficult financial situation their council is in, and the need to find a different way to manage the house and the park. They have given us feedback on what they believe is possible with regard to Lydiard.
“We are using consultants to independently and fairly evaluate the expressions of interest from different organisations with experience or ability to take on management of Lydiard, and also to bring together all the comments made by the public. I am not party to the details because these will be compiled in a report for cabinet. Once that is done we will engage in a more formal consultation on the options in front of the council.
“I can assure everybody we are holding a genuine, open dialogue with people about the future of the park rather than a loud interchange through the media. I and Cllr Renard have had many meetings with residents and we want to have more of them, but regrettably the basis for reasonable discussion is being lost.
“Nothing has been agreed, we’re not advocating a new build hotel in the park as has been suggested, and we’re not proposing that people’s access to the park is hindered. I’ve said all along the access enjoyed by residents at present must continue.
“The Friends of Lydiard Park have set down their objections to a transfer of management responsibility from the council, many of which I agree with. But we need to acknowledge there is already some commercialisation in Lydiard Park with the conference centre, the Jungle Parc outdoor adventure centre, and also events run by council staff.
“Several years ago all parties in the council agreed plans that a new special needs family support centre for Hop, Skip and Jump could be built next to the sports field, so there is precedent. The point is we’re trying to find out what more might be acceptable without damaging the essential features that make Lydiard special.
“I’m appealing to any group or organisation interested in running Lydiard to submit an Expression of Interest by Friday 11 December. Details are not required at this stage, just an outline of proposals.”
To submit an Expression of Interest, contact:
David Creamore, Bilfinger GVA London. 0207 227 2155. firstname.lastname@example.org
Gavin Brent, Bilfinger GVA London. 0207 227 2228 email@example.com
Emails can also be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org