Matthew Courtliff, the newly elected Labour councillor for Lydiard & Freshbrook Ward, has wasted no time since the local elections in early May in calling for an extraordinary meeting of all Swindon’s Councillors to stop the process of outsourcing Lydiard House and the park to a private company.
Such a meeting of Full Council is an unusual step and happens rarely as it requires the signatures of 10 elected members. The Labour opposition has backed Cllr Courtliff’s move and the borough solicitor and the Mayor have sanctioned the meeting which will take place on 15 June, 7pm, in the Council Chamber in the Civic Offices, Euclid Street.
Cllr Courtliff will move a motion calling on Swindon Council’s cabinet to exclude any private companies from running Lydiard. This was one of his campaign pledges during the recent local elections. He said: “During the local election campaign, the strength of feeling about the future Lydiard was clear and I made a pledge to ensure control would not be given away to a private sector body, which might not run Lydiard in the best interests of our community.
“Because this issue is so important to my residents, I did not want to wait until the next available council meeting to undertake this campaign pledge, particularly when the future of Lydiard is so fluid. I believe my election as Lydiard and Freshbrook councillor provides a strong democratic mandate for the council to change its policy of transferring Lydiard out of public control and I will be making this point at the meeting.”
Swindon Council has not yet revealed how many bids to run Lydiard Park are being considered, or who which organisations are interested
Swindon residents concerned about Lydiard Park are able to watch the debate in the council chamber, subject to space availability in the public gallery.
Pictured top: Lydiard House and its park, image courtesy of CartoConsult. Above, Cllr Courtliff pictured at the public meeting organised by the Friends of Lydiard Park at Lydiard Park Academy on 12 January – photo Richard Wintle of Calyx
Read more about the public meeting
Lydiard House & Park background and context
In 2013 the Council commenced a programme of work aimed at removing, over time, the subsidy for its Leisure and Cultural assets through working with alternative operators with a more commercial focus.
The first part of this programme focussed on Leisure provision which resulted in the leasing of the borough’s leisure and golf facilities last year. This secured a sustainable future and significant investment for these important facilities, which are no longer reliant on subsidies from the Council.
The next phase of the work is looking at the cultural assets like Lydiard House & Park and our country parks. The primary objective of this work is to ensure that all of the facilities and assets have a long term sustainable future, which, given the scale of the demand on Council finances, must include removing the need for Council subsidy.
In 2013/14 the park cost the Council £458,000 to run and projections for 2015-16 show a subsidy of around £420,000.
The Council, which owns Lydiard House and Park, appointed independent property advisor GVA Bilfinger to invite expressions of interests. Nine organisations have responded to a marketing exercise to identify joint venture partners for Lydiard House and Park.
Adverts were placed in trade journals and newspapers to invite proposals from national, commercial and not-for-profit organisations as well as local community groups.
Following the deadline for expressions of interest, nine organisations have contacted GVA Bilfinger to declare an interest in the site. As the process is commercially confidential no details of any of the interested parties will be made public. The Council’s Cabinet will be asked in February whether they wish to invite formal bids for the operation of the site.
Before submitting an interest, organisations were advised that the freehold of the site was not for sale and that any offer including the sale of all or part of the site would be rejected.
Other conditions included maintaining access to the site for the people of Swindon, as well as ensuring proposals are sustainable in terms of the heritage value of the site and from an economic and environmental perspective.
Any proposal must also generate income for the Council and not require any on-going financial support from the local authority.
The Council has already leased part of Lydiard to tree top adventure company Jungle Parc and regularly hires out the park for events, while the Lydiard House Conference Centre could also form the basis of potential proposals with the current lease due to expire next year.
More than 300 people attended two public engagement drop-in sessions at Lydiard in the Autumn of 2015 to share their views on what elements of the park are important to them.