Lydiard Park Heritage Trust has been chosen as the preferred bidder to take over the running of Lydiard Park. Swindon Borough Council are set to approve the move at their cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
The community group scored highest out of five bids received by the council and, if councillors endorse the trust as the preferred bidder at next week’s cabinet meeting. Further due diligence will take place before a business transfer agreement and l;ease is agreed over the next six months.
The trustees of The Lydiard Park Heritage Trust have welcomed the news.
Chair Mike Bowden said: “The Trustees continue to meet regularly to prepare for the next chapter for Lydiard House and Park. We are pleased to have convinced the bid assessment team as to the merits of our vision for Lydiard and we look forward to next week’s cabinet meeting when the formal decision is to be made”.
And Swindon South MP and Trust patron Robert Buckland said: “This is very encouraging news. SBC made a brave and correct decision to embark upon a competitive bid process for Lydiard and I am optimistic that the SBC cabinet will accept the recommendation put to them. I’m sure Lydiard being in the hands of a community based not for profit trust will meet with widespread local support”.
The council’s cabinet agreed last year to invite formal bids to run the park with the aim of reducing the council’s annual subsidy and ongoing maintenance for the popular attraction. Over the last two years, the park has cost the council around £460,000 a year to run.
The council received three full-site bids, two from community trusts and one from a commercial operator, as well as two part-site bids. The full-site bids satisfied all of the criteria set out by the council.
Both the trust bids, which are seeking a 50-year lease, scored higher than the commercial bid, and put forward detailed business plans which would remove the council’s subsidy through improving the hotel and catering on the site, while retaining the historic fabric of the park and sympathetically enhancing the offer at the House.
The two trust bids are confident of securing the necessary start-up funding and would wish to work with the council to clarify the extent of backlog maintenance, and have proposed to fund an additional structural survey to do this.
However, although both bids have relative advantages in certain areas, the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust scored highest on the heritage expertise of the core team as well as the record of key Trustees in accessing Heritage Lottery Funding.
The Lydiard Park Heritage Trust anticipate that it will be in a position to take over the operation of the House and Park in early 2018, allowing time for staff to transferred from both the Council and Chartridge Limited, which currently runs the hotel on the site.
Exploring commercial opportunities for Lydiard Park formed part of the council’s leisure and culture commissioning change programme, which resulted in the successful leasing of the borough’s leisure and golf facilities. This secured a sustainable future for these important facilities, which are no longer reliant on subsidies from the Council.
Cllr Garry Perkins, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for Lydiard, said: “This has been a long, thorough and fair process and I am delighted we are now in a position to present a preferred bidder to take over the running of Lydiard Park and House.
“Lydiard is a key asset for people in Swindon and we need to ensure it has a sustainable future within the council’s ownership. I would like to thank all the bidders for the time, effort and passion they have shown throughout the bidding exercise. We had two very strong bids from both the community trusts, but ultimately the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust came out on top in the scoring.
“If cabinet decide to endorse the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust as the preferred bidder we still need to conduct detailed due diligence to ensure we preserve this wonderful park for generations to come.”