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Friday, 10 December 2021

Update on the Future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

 The latest Cabinet report was published on 24 November, ahead of the Cabinet meeting on 1 December. It was a following on from the report presented at Cabinet on 8 September which suggested that the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery collections be moved to the first floor of the Civic Offices and Apsley House, the current home of SM&AG be declared 'not fit for purpose', emptied and sold as 'surplus to requirements'. 

In the latest report, costings of £150,000* were to be spent on making the whole of the first floor of the Civic Offices ready to display the collections, with a further £250,000 set aside for the lift, roof repairs and contingency. This was in contrast to the report from March 2019 when using the Civic Offices was deemed the expensive option at £1.86 million as opposed to the £400,000 it would cost to improve Apsley House until an alternative solution was found.

The two contrasting reports are here: 

Link to March 2019 Cabinet paper, it's item 72

 link to 1.12.21 Cabinet paper, it's item 54

 Members of Save our Museum and Gallery group went to both the Cabinet and Scrutiny meetings. Here we are outside the Civic Offices ahead of Cabinet:

Photos courtesy of the Swindon Advertiser who have done a brilliant job of reporting at these events
We have asked many questions, some of them are listed below, with number 1 question at the beginning:

The question about the difference between the £1,860,000 refurb of the Civic Offices and what we’d get for £150,000 was answered by Richard Bell who said the original 2019 proposal would have involved knocking down walls and remodelling for the permanent solution to SM&AG, this version is scaled down and will involve much more basic accommodation for a medium term solution of approximately 10 years.

David Renard reiterated that development of the Kimmerfields site is well under way with the new Zurich building, and a start has been made on the bus boulevard. Looking at the council’s website, it says spring 2022 is when work will start on the BB.

In answer to environmental controls, we were assured all of the rooms used in the Civic Offices will have these, in contrast to AH where there was one in the basement and another in the art gallery.

It will apparently take 12-16 weeks to get necessary change of use consents for the Civic Offices.

Money is still being saved by moving to the CO because they are already being heated, keeping AH closed saves on energy costs. There are people working in there apparently. Unsure if  we got an answer to the question about whether AH is being refurbished at all for sale?

Most of the money at the CO is being spent on the lift, with a contingency of £45k, they are hoping to rationalise their stores and keep some items not being displayed at the CO.

Carole Bent in outlining the role of Scrutiny, highlighted that councillors sitting on the Scrutiny committee had it in their remit to vote to send the decision back to Cabinet, and Carole requested that they did so as there remained much uncertainty around the plans and costings. This didn't happen, the plans were voted through by a majority.

David Renard either hasn’t read the plans for the cultural quarter or would rather keep this quiet, but he talks about the ‘museum and art gallery in the cq’ whereas we know current proposals appear to be to have an art pavilion in the cq costing between £6.9m to £1m and the museum in a converted town hall.

This section of the scrutiny meeting ended with councillors being reminded that they weren’t voting on the figures suggested in the report, but the process of the cabinet meeting. David Renard was reminded to inform members of scrutiny  about this before they called it in..

Richard Bell couldn't give a market value for Apsley House. I thought it was odd that he couldn't state even an approximate figure off the cuff. He couldn’t say whether it would be sold with the gallery and shops or not. He has referred us to the council's property department.

The collection is being stored at 'various places', apparently, but SBC wasn't prepared to divulge where for security reasons

SBC is hoping to show about 1/3 more of the collection at the Civic Offices than could be displayed at Apsley House.

I asked a question about the proposal from Central South Swindon Parish Council to take over the running of SM&AG, that avenue is not being pursued at the moment.

Another question about an arts and museum curator to replace Sophie Cummings has not been asked.

*Breakdown of costs to Civic Offices was provided to give more idea of where the money will be spent, and appears below in italics. Room plans have not been provided, so we don't know where work will start, or where the art gallery will be.

Officers have worked on costings to enable the occupation of the Civic Offices for a temporary home for the Museum and Art Gallery with the objective that the facility should be at least commensurate with the conditions at Apsley House. In many respects it will be much better.

The costings have been worked up as broad estimates, which of course can only be tested by the market when any tenders are placed. This is the same for any project. They are comparable with the costings estimated for provision at Lydiard when we were looking to temporarily relocate there.

The costings have been assessed by the Council’s Buildings Maintenance Team who have significant experience of maintaining our assets and a Heritage buildings specialist. The conditions for all aspects of display have been informed by our Museum Manager and most experienced Curator. Officers consider them to be reasonable for the temporary provision proposed.

The main element of the overall cost is likely to be a replacement lift, which at the moment provides the greatest level of uncertainty as a range of solutions have been considered. It is estimated that the most likely solution would cost c.£200,000 with minor roof maintenance and contingency bringing this element up to £250,000. As this work would be required however the upper floors of the building were to be occupied, it is provided for through general maintenance as is required regardless of the Museum and Art Gallery.

Planning permission will be needed for a change of use of the building to a Museum and Art Gallery and listed building consent for works including a new/replacement or refurbished lift.”

Breakdown of estimated capital works costs

 

Works/ Task

Estimated Cost

Solar Floor to Windows

  10,000

Mounting Boards

    5,000

Making Good & Redecorations

  30,000

Carpeting/ Acoustic Insulation (West End)

  20,000

Additional Fire Precautions/ Security/ Access Controls

  17,000

Small Power

    8,000

Lighting

  10,000

Museum Fixtures & Fittings

   50,000

TOTAL

£150,000

Two Swindon Advertiser articles about the relocation plans:

 https://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/19760460.400-000-work-will-transform-civic-offices-museum-art-gallery-space/

https://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/19760417.civic-offices-will-turned-museum-space-despite-campaign-keep-apsley-house-open/

 

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