Ever since Swindon Borough Council announced the running of Lydiard House and Park would be put out to tender last September 2015 the people of the town have been making themselves heard.
This was definitely the case via a survey carried out by Swindon Link magazine with 340 people sending the questionnaire published in the February 2016 edition or filling it in online. The headline response is that the majority of respondents are willing to pay for car parking in the park, but are against a hotel on the heritage site.
Swindon Council says it can no longer afford the £485,000 annual running costs and is now considering tenders from commercial organisations and a newly formed charitable heritage trust to run the park from September this year. Some of the criteria made public by which the tenders are being considered are listed at the bottom of the page.
Respondents to the survey declared they use the park and house for a variety of reasons – from going to the cafe, visiting the walled garden and house to dog walking and using the playground and the Jungle Parc, as well as watching wildlife, attending church, walking, running, picnics, cycling and even for simple relaxation.
The survey results
• Out of the 340 respondents, 90% of whom were over the age of 30, 43% visit the park at least once a week, with 26% visiting once a month, 20% a few times a year and 11% at least once a year.
• The majority of people, 66%, travel to Lydiard Park by car with only 23% on foot and 4% by bicycle amd another 4% get there by a mix of the three.
• People would like to see more concerts, shows and festivals at the site, as well as farmers markets, craft fayres, charity walks and runs, and more family friendly events.
• As far as car parking is concerned 64% of people would support the introduction of car parking charges with 29% strongly in favour. That leaves 31% of people against the introduction with 19% of people strongly against such a proposal.
• When asked about car parking pricing 90% of people believed it should be no more than £1 an hour and preferably 50p an hour.
• Half of the people surveyed would support an increased entry price for the house and walled garden but 88% of people would be against paying an entry price for the entire park.
• 63% of people are against the creation of a hotel on the site with only 26% in favour.
• Most people would like some kind of attraction at the site like a petting zoo or a maze at 70%.
• 87% want the catering facilities improved.
• 66% would like to see improvements to the conference centre.
• Half of the people surveyed would be against the introduction of a camping and caravan facilities at the site
• 98% of people believe there should definitely be more large scale events at the park.
A sample of people’s comments:
• ‘Despite the opinion of most, I agree with the council that Lydiard is not financially viable as it is currently managed. It needs to go the way of other manor houses and either get support from The National Trust or become a full-blown tourist attraction.’
• ‘I’ve been questioning for years why there’s not a signpost for Lydiard on the motorway. Bowood, Beale Park and others all have motorway signage. Why not Lydiard?’
• I think careful consideration needs to be given to any kind of development within the park as I would think the attraction of the park for many visitors is that it is currently relatively unspoilt and underdeveloped.’
• ‘Move the registry office to the house to provide a more attractive setting with good parking for wedding guests and with on-site reception facilities.”
• ‘A good quality restaurant as well as a Costa Coffee with an undercover soft play area for younger children. The coffee shop should include undercover outside seating.’
Selecting the new management:
The council has agreed the successful tender will abide by a number of criteria. The ones that have been public so far are to:
- Secure a sustainable future for Lydiard House and Park within the council’s ownership that does not rely on an on-going council subsidy.
- Safeguard the historical importance of the Lydiard House Museum and its collections and the walled garden and ensure they remain accessible to the general public.
- Protect the historic landscape and structures within the park, which were restored as part of the £5.1million Heritage Lottery Fund Project, and reflect the long-term plans submitted in 2015.
- Allow the continuation of public access to the park and grounds.
- Address the on-going maintenance and repair of the house and park.
The organisation which takes on the house and park will access to a ‘reverse premium’ of £850,000 as a contribution to a current maintenance backlog. The council aims to have new management arrangements for the park in place from September.