Swindon Borough Council obtain possession of the Mechanics' Institute.
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We the undersigned call upon Swindon Borough Council to take possession of The Mechanics’ Institute, by issuing a Compulsory Purchase Order or other means immediately. The owner Mr Sarabjit Singh Dhanoa formerly known as Matthew Singh of Forefront Estates has wilfully neglected his obligation to preserve the building and suspect he has carried out illegal works without planning permission during the time of his ownership.
Forefront Estates was dissolved in 2012 because of non-payment of the nearly one million pounds of costs incurred by Swindon Borough Council to secure and slow the deterioration of the building whilst in his care. Mr Dhanoa has since resurrected his company in August 2017 and has had all previous assets restored to his ownership by the Treasury. Recent evidence shows he has at some point during his ownership carried out suspected illegal works to convert areas into flats without planning permission and listed building consent on a Grade II* listed building which can lead to prosecution ending in imprisonment.
The Mechanics’ Institute is in a very poor state and we can no longer continue to wait for an amicable resolution. The Mechanics’ Institute has been in decline for decades and we are still no nearer to seeing it restored. As recent filmed footage by urban explorers shows the building is all but a ruin, with ceilings held up by vast internal scaffolding, a basement full of standing water, there are huge amounts of faecal matter from pigeons and most likely rats. Walls have crumbled, rooms are full of debris, floors soft and unstable from damp. There are holes in the roof and floors. Some rooms have been bizarrely altered and there are building materials and equipment strewn everywhere. There is evidence of previous trespass and the presence of the urban explorers demonstrates this building is not secure. The building is damp and in an altogether parlous state.
Despite their trespass, I am thankful to the urban explorers for revealing the state of the building which can hardly be conceived from the neat hoarding that surround its exterior.
The new Heritage Action Zone offers opportunities for the area as the cabinet member for the town centre has recently reflected, but, Dhanoa’s continued ownership of the building stands in the way of any real progress being made and this can no longer be tolerated.
The Mechanics’ Institute is a Grade II* listed building constructed in 1853 by the GWR workers themselves for their benefit and enlightenment. It had reading rooms, a theatre and an impressive lending library which pre-dated the first public lending library in Manchester by 9 years. An extension was added in 1889 providing ladies facilities, smoking rooms, billiards, chess and bagatelle rooms, a lecture room and dressing rooms for the theatre. The fly tower was constructed in 1930 after a fire which destroyed much of the original theatre area. The building was taken over by British Rail in 1960 and the library facilities where closed and replaced with a bar/lounge, dance floor and skittle alley. The theatre closed in 1970, and large parts of the building fell into disuse due to damp and a general lack of maintenance resulting in the final closure of the building in 1986. The building was offered to the council in 1985 but they declined due to more than one million pounds of maintenance required and was finally purchased by a Mr Forbes in 1987. He failed to obtain planning permission to convert part of the building into a nightclub. It then passed to Lamplough Estates in 1988 who gained planning permission to convert the building into a hotel, but the company went into receivership before conversion took place. It then passed to Mountfield Ltd in 1991 who failed to carry out the planned conversion before planning permission expired in 1995. The building then passed to its current owner in 2003.
The building is an important part of Swindon’s rich railway history and historically significant to our town's unique identity. The time has come for direct and meaningful action, it must be saved for the people of Swindon.
Please watch the video published by TheSecretVault, ‘Swindon Machine Institute 4k steadicam’ on YouTube, this represents the most recent condition (February 2019) of the building and I am sure most Swindon people will be quite shocked at what is revealed. Video YouTube link: https://youtu.be/ZbjbVMfg-mU
Please note: This petition has been created by Sally Hawson of Save Swindon’s Heritage; we are independent and not affiliated in any way with any other group.
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