Further details of ambitious plan to replace Wyvern and Museum and sell off Civic Offices

By Ben Fitzgerald - 14 March 2019

CommunityPoliticsArts and CultureHeritage

Swindon Borough Council's cabinet member for the town centre, Dale Heenan, has given more detail about ambitious plans to replace the ageing Wyvern Theatre with a new arts and cultural centre - funded in part by the sale of the Civic Offices in Euclid Street.

Although Mr Heenan was keen to stress that the scheme was very much in its infancy, he revealed that the new building could be used to house the town's valuable collection of 20th Century art as well as providing an alternative space for council meetings.
Last year, the Heritage Lottery Fund turned down a bid to part fund a £22m landmark building to house the town's museum and art gallery. Since then, work has been going on behind closed doors to develop an alternative plan.
Speaking at the current Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Mr Heenan said: "Today is really the culmination of the last six months of work. The trust did a good piece of work last summer asking local residents in the town to come up with all the possible options they would like to see considered for a new home for the museum and art gallery. 
"There were a multitude of options that we have gone through in a lot of detail to work out what is deliverable and what is affordable. We had to ask ourselves what is something that the council can deliver and is within its control rather than always having to rely on external funding and proceeding on that basis. What we have come forward with is a series of short-term measures while we sort out that bigger vision."
Outlining the new plan he said: "Rather than a stand alone building being constructed, it's about rebuilding the Wyvern Theatre itself. 
"It is an ageing theatre it isn't big enough for a town of Swindon's size but if want to attract the larger higher profile performances and shows and comedians we need more capacity in the theatre. 
"Why don't we include a larger building which includes a relocation of the art gallery and museum that we are in today. 
There's certainly the hope that we will double or triple the size of this building but let's leave it for the professionals now to come up with those designs and the feasibility work."
He said that selling the council's Euclid Street civic offices would help finance the project, adding that it would be up to the professionals to work out how best to get best value out of the site.
A £250,000 grant from the Local Enterprise Partnership will be used to fund an initial feasibility study.
"Let's do this properly and over the next 12 months really drive it forward. It will take time to deliver. We know we have got until 2025 2027 when the Wyvern Theatre itself needs a serious amount of money - it's coming to the end of life - all the structural and maintenance reports are saying that."
Although the previous bid was to create a landmark building that would stand out on the Swindon skyline, Mr Heenan was keen to stress that it was crucial that this scheme was affordable - with a proposed price tag of about £15 - £20m.
"The thing is that it is going to be cheaper to do this project than for the Heritage Lottery project because it's not going to be a stand alone building. There's already a building there and we can come up with a way to finance that in a slightly different way. We can use some enabling development it might be shops it might be residential on that site as well. Obviously we have got the council offices to pay for that as well. I'm not allowed to put into a financial report to put that it is at nil cost to the tax payer but that is the ambition."
Speaking about the potential sale of the Civic Offices he explained that the new building could be home to meeting rooms used by the council: "At the end of the day there are two functions of councillors you need meeting rooms like any office and you need committee rooms to be able to hold meetings. 
"So why do you need a building with six committee rooms just to do those kind of things? You don't. You can do these things differently. 
The main part though is the council chamber itself. Once or twice a month we will have a debate of all 57 councillors whether it's a planning committee or a full council - yes that's the kind of practical point that we will need to work though. But if you are looking at a re-built Wyvern Theatre, is there not a way in which we can create that space within the building or even use the theatre once or twice a month?
It doesn't require a dedicated stand alone facility."
Mr Heenan explained that the plans were at the initial stage, with a projected completion date of 2025/26.
"Once we are in a position to say construction starts - then is the right time to start thinking about the other consequences around what do we do with this fantastic building we are in at the moment. 
We don't have all those answers but you need to start somewhere and break the problem down. We have said that this is our ambition we know how to make it work. Let's actually get cracking on it. I hope that within 12 months we will have all those feasibility assessments, initial design work with a time line to deliver it. At the moment do we think it's going to be 2025 but by 2027 we are going to have to invest millions into the Wyvern anyway because of the refurbishment."

The council plans to invest £400,000 into the current Swindon Museum an Art Gallery building to fund essential improvements including building a lift to increase accessibility.


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