Plans to give a landmark Old Town a new lease of life have taken a step forward after agreement was reached on its sale.
Swindon Borough Council has agreed to sell Apsley House, the former home of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, to local property developer Arthur Dallimer, who proposes to regenerate the site into a mixed-use commercial development.
The site, on the corner of Bath Road and Victoria Road, could include a 90-seat indoor and outdoor restaurant, a 30-seat cafe in the old listed house, a co-work space similar to the Workshed in Swindon’s Carriage Works, and five retail units.
Mr Dallimer has pledged to start work straight away if his plans are approved by the Council’s Planning Committee, and that the new development could be open for use as early as next year.
Apsley House has been closed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, as its split levels and limited capacity made social distancing extremely challenging.
As the building is not fully accessible and required significant investment to maintain it, the council took the decision to move the museum and art collections to a semi-permanent home at the Civic Offices in Euclid Street until plans for a new facility in the town’s proposed Cultural Quarter come forward.
The new facility will be open to the public later this year.
Last summer, the council invited bids for the Grade II Listed building from community organisations due to it being an Asset of Community Value. South Swindon Parish Council said it would not proceed with the purchase of Apsley House after surveys and valuations revealed it would cost around £1.1m to bring the building back into use.
As no community bids came forward, Apsley House was put out to the open market for sale at the end of last year.
In December, Mr Dallimer released his aspirations for Apsley House via a website to gain support for his vision. The community provided over 150 messages from business leaders, interest groups and members of the public.
Cllr Keith Williams, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Finance and Commercialisation, said: “Apsley House is a much-loved building and I am really excited to see Mr Dallimer’s development come forward.
“He put forward an incredibly strong bid not just in terms of the price offered, but also for his vision for the site which was strongly supported by the local community.
“I look forward to seeing Apsley House brought back to life and it would be fantastic to see this popular corner of Old Town bustling with activity in the future.”
Arthur Dallimer said: “I am overwhelmed to have gained so much public support and subsequently being awarded the sale. My task now is to get my design into planning within two to three months, and get approval from the council and interested parties like English Heritage, which have to be consulted on the listed building.
“I will, however, move quickly to enable this development, and the community has my commitment to achieving planning, completing the restoration and development, and finding the best mix of independent tenants, while protecting the existing tenants’ lease arrangements.
“As I’m Swindon born, this building has been a key part of my childhood, as it has been for many Swindon residents. I’m excited to be bringing it back to life and for the community to use as a commercial space.”
Richard Deacon, Chair of the Old Town Business Association, said: “This is a historic moment for Old Town. We’ve not seen a development and restoration like this in years and the site will clearly be a beacon for the future of Old Town.
"The Association heavily supported Arthur’s plans and we will continue to work with him to help attract independent operators and ensure that it becomes a seamless addition to the successful business community of Old Town.”
Kris Talikowski, who sits on the Switch on to Swindon board, said: “Swindon’s heritage assets are a constant challenge due to the scale and amount of work needed for restoration, the fact that most are privately owned, and finding developers with the capital to invest in the sites.
“I am extremely encouraged that the council is taking a community-supported step forward with Apsley House. As Old Town is a significant destination area for Swindon it is extremely positive that the Council has seen Arthur’s long-term vision for the site. What a great result for Old Town, but also for Swindon too.”
Plans for the site, including recently released floor plans, can be seen at www.apsleycorner.com
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