A debate on the future of Lydiard House and Park will take place at the next full council meeting on Thursday January 21.
This comes despite the council claiming a Change.org online petition organised by the Friends of Lydiard, with currently more than 8,000 signatures, did not meet the necessary requirements to trigger a debate as it did not include the full petitioners address and only the postcode.
Swindon Borough Council are looking at leasing the house and park as a cost-cutting measure and have asked for expressions of interest from organisations who could possibly take it on.
The Friends of Lydiard Park, an apolitical group set up 60 years ago to safeguard the heritage and future of the site, oppose the idea of transferring the house and park to the private sector and launched the petition on 26 November, which was signed by 1,500 people in just 5 days.
A motion will be put forward by two members of the Conservative administration acknowledging the petition. The exact wording of the motion will not be revealed until the council papers are released on 13 January.
Council leader David Renard, right, said: “While there is a debate about possible proposals for the future of Lydiard Park and House, there are a number of facts that the Council cannot ignore, which have shaped our thinking.
“We have to find another £19m of savings in 2016/17 from a budget of about £137m. We have no choice in this as we have to pass a balanced budget. We have to make these cuts mostly because we have more elderly people in the borough needing care and children needing core and schools along with reductions in our grants from central government. We are now spending nearly 70% of the Council’s entire budget on Adult Social Care and Children’s Services and this is not likely to reduce. You cannot separate Lydiard’s future from this financial context.
“At the same time, I can assure you that Lydiard House and Park are not for sale. However, we do need to find a way to remove the current tax payer subsidy of £458k this year and provide the additional money we need to maintain and improve the House and Park.
“To solve both these problems the Council has asked companies, not –for-profit organisations, charities, and voluntary groups to submit ideas about how they could run the park and house differently.
“Anyone who is saying that the Borough’s “crown jewels” are in danger from this approach is wrong. In fact, the House and Park are in more danger if the Council does nothing, because the personal care services will always come first in demands for money, even if we increase taxes or have more government grant. The reality is that we will have less and less to spend on all other services, which means that there will simply not be money to invest in Lydiard.
“I am pleased to say that the Conservative Majority Group will be proposing a motion at January’s Council meeting, which will acknowledge the petition. I look forward to receiving the unequivocal support of all Members.”
A public meeting about the Lydiard Park situation, organised by The Friends of Lydiard Park, will take place at Lydiard Park Academy, Grange Park Way, Swindon SN5 6HN on Tuesday 12 January at 7pm.
Mike Bowden, the chairman of The Friends, said: “The Friends understand and accept the financial realities facing the council and recognise that any credible solution must include the effective reduction of the Lydiard Park subsidy (whether it is £458,000 or £250,000 remains an issue between us but is probably best left to debate on another day) so that the estate becomes cost neutral in a short period.
“We accept that the council has no intention to and will not sell the freehold title to any part of the Lydiard estate.
“Our primary concern as reflected in the petition is that a private sector organisation is given a lease to the property along with day to day control and management and that organisation in the short or medium term puts in a planning application to their landlord and planning authority, namely Swindon Borough Council, to erect a new hotel or other substantial building within the park or a fundamental conversion of the existing house and museum to a use which conflicts with the heritage site.
“We believe Lydiard House and Park is not the council’s to lease to any profit making organisation. They hold it on trust for the people of Swindon and if they are not prepared or able to manage the site it must be passed to a not for profit community based organisation.”