The decision by Swindon Borough Council to publish the criteria used to evaluate the different bids to run one of the town’s favourite places has been welcomed by one of the bidding organisations: the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust.
It means Swindon people are now able to judge for themselves whether the bidding process is fair, and whether the criteria meet public expectations in protecting Lydiard Park and its heritage, and maintaining access to the house and park for the community.
A key point made at many public meetings since last October is that the process ought to be as transparent as possible. The trust maintains that public engagement should remain a priority for Swindon Borough Council when dealing with such a significant publicly owned asset, which plays such an important part of the lives of so many Swindon residents.
Speaking on behalf of the Heritage Trust, Gina Akers said: “We believe that at times of austerity it’s important that the community unites to protect what they believe in. Lydiard Park is not a playground for short-term commercial gains, it’s an essential part of our heritage and culture for today and tomorrow”.
The Trust expects the release of the criteria to reignite the debate over the future of Lydiard House & Park and whether or not they reflect the wishes of the majority of people in Swindon. They are concerned as to whether the criteria gives a fair chance to a not-for-profit group to make a bid or whether they are skewed towards a commercial proposal. They also want to establish if free access to the park is going to be secured and if there are sufficient safeguards to protect the House and Park from inappropriate development.
Concern has already been expressed to the council about the apparent expectation for rent to be paid by the winning bidder(s). The trust has expressed surprise at this proposition, particularly as Swindon Borough Council have until now maintained that Lydiard House & Park was costing over £400,000 in an annual ‘subsidy’. They’re concerned that the issue of rent will favour a commercial organisation looking to exploit the site for profit, with the accompanying risks that would pose to preserving the character of the Park.
Gina, who is press officer with the trust, added: “It is not simply about finance – money does not enable an organisation with zero relevant expertise to do a good job. It is not right that individuals and private companies should profit from an asset that belongs to the people of Swindon.”
The trust statement adds that it will submit a strong bid that meets all the criteria set by Swindon Borough Council, which provides the best long term future for Lydiard House & Park, a bid for the people of Swindon and beyond.
Click to read the criteria bidders to run Lydiard Park have to respond to. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on download the pdf under the title: Bid proposal for Lydiard House and Park
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Photo top by Darren Jack. Image below by Carto Consult