Tag: Mechanics

Unwrapping the Mechanics

’Tis a little unfortunate that Swindon Borough Council completed removing the roof of the northern part of the GWR Mechanics Institution building just as there were several days of very heavy rain. Rain and exposed ceilings don’t mix. Well, actually, they do mix, into a rather soggy mess. And of course, despite these being ‘urgent’ works, when the rain started, the work stopped. The once Great Hall is now rather well ventilated, with an excellent view of the night sky.
Taking off the blue wrapper…
Next, off with the roof frame….
All exposed!
See the hole to the left of the orange ladder.
All photographs © komadori, all rights reserved.

The efficient approach to building restoration

In these economically tightened times, how do you go about restoring a building in the most efficient way possible? Don’t know? Never mind, let Swindon Commercial Services be your guide.

First, get some banners specially made, that’ll only be of use for this one job.
Nice new banners. Photo © komadori
Next, give someone that most strenuous of tasks: being the ’elf ’n’ safety guard who stops pedestrians blundering into the path of passing buses, ’cos the pavement has been cordoned off.
Tiring work. Photo © komadori

Then hide those specially prepared signs with big wooden hoardings.
Where’d that sign go? Photo © komadori
Finally, as noted by Swindon Centric, paint the hoardings white. It’s nice to know that the newly pseudo-independent SCS is spending our money so carefully.

Update, Tuesday, 27 July 2010: As expected, the hoardings have now been fully painted in traditional white, ready for the graffiti taggers to do their worst.
Now in white. Photo © komadori

Repairing the Mechanics

Repairing the Mechanics. © komadoriToday I noticed preparatory work has commenced around the Mechanics Institution. Barriers have gone up and a bus stop temporarily moved out of the way along Bristol Street. It’s taken rather a long time to get here, but that Swindon Borough Council is finally taking action to repair the crumbling Mechanics Institution has to be a good thing. If they can then claw back the costs from the owner who has allowed it to fall into such disrepair, so much the better. If they can’t and they have to sell it on to a more conscientious owner, even better still.

Update: It seems it may take a little longer yet, as the site was locked. The matter will now go to court for a warrant to give the council access.

Circles of enforcement

Mr Singh seems to be collecting enforcement notices rather more readily than he’s planning permission for work on the GWR Mechanics Institute building. Following an urgent works notice issued in January — requiring basic maintenance to be done on the building to make it watertight — Mr Singh is now the lucky winner of an enforcement order from the Health and Safety Executive, stopping that work because of unsafe practices. If he can’t even manage basic repairs safely, how does he expect anyone to believe he’s capable of fulfilling the grander plans he has for the building?

It’s difficult to understand why Mr Singh continues to cling on to ownership of the building. From a business perspective — even in the unlikely event that he did submit an acceptable planning application — from his actions so far it doesn’t look as though he’s got the wherewithal to make a profit from redevelopment of the Mechanics. The sooner ownership passes to someone more commercially capable the better.


Swindon Borough Council recently suggested that if the owner doesn’t do some basic maintenance of the Mechanics Institute building within the next three months they may compulsorily purchase it. According to Mr Singh in his latest tirade against against the council,

the south side of the building is complete.

Mr Singh clearly has a rather draughty and scaffolding-clad view of ‘complete’.
Completely incomplete. Photo © komadori.
Complete… with draughts. Photo © komadori.
As for the remainder of the building, it’s condition is deplorable.
Mechanics Institute north side. Photo © komadori.Mechanics Institute fly tower. Photo © komadori.
As Mr Singh now says he is accepting offers, perhaps an organisation with the funds and experience to restore this neglecting building will express an interest. In many ways, it could be an ideal public venue to compliment the nearby headquarters of the National Trust.

New year, same inaction

It seems to be just once a year that Mr Singh — owner of the GWR Mechanics Institute building — appears from his self-imposed inactivity to claim a little publicity for his newest far-fetched plans for the building. The story is always the same: how he’s done so much to maintain the buildings; how great his newest plans for the building are; and how Swindon Borough Council and English Heritage are obstructing him. This year is no exception.

The way the council is talking it’s like I’ve abandoned it completely. People would be amazed if they could see what is actually going on inside.

So poor is the state of the building now that it’s actually possible to see rather a lot of the inside whilst standing outside. All I see going on inside is more decay.

It really is time Mr Singh understood that if the council is blocking his plans, it’s because that’s what the planning regulations say they should be doing. And if Mr Singh isn’t prepared to abide by the development control laws in this country, then he shouldn’t be in the property development business.

Covering up

The Mechanics Institute gets a blue bonnet © komadoriIt’s nice to see that the Mechanics Institute Building has received some remedial attention to its roof, to protect the theatre area of the building. The large expanses of blue plastic are not pretty, but it’s better than the building being left more exposed. Of course, if the owner hadn’t removed all the roof tiles several years ago — since when this end of the building has significantly deteriorated — there wouldn’t be a need to cover it over now.

Planning decay

You could be forgiven for thinking that Swindon Borough Council now has an obligation to find alternative uses for the Mechanics Institute. That’s certainly the impression that the Adver’s report gives.

A Planning Inspectorate report on the Swindon Central Area Action Plan says it has seen no evidence that other sources of cash have been explored to restore the building as a centre for learning, cultural and social activities. It says the council must demonstrate alternative ownership and a cultural learning centre is not feasible before it can look at other uses of the building.

It’s not true: the council doesn’t have to demonstrate anything. The planning inspector’s report on Swindon Borough Council’s Central Area Action Plan is very careful not to point at who has that obligation. These are some of her comments.

The Mechanics Institute is privately-owned. Although there is strong support to bring the building back into public ownership, the ongoing revenue costs of maintaining the building would impose a substantial financial burden on the Council. Consequently, the acquisition of the building by the local authority was discarded as an option in favour of working with the owner to deliver a sensitive re-use of the building that would secure its long term survival….

Whilst public ownership of the Mechanics Institute does not appear to be a viable option, there is no evidence that other sources of funding to help restore the building and reinstate its historic use as a centre for learning, cultural and social activities have been considered, or other ownership options have been explored…. The policy is not framed with such options in mind. Moreover, as drafted, it fails to encapsulate the important place of the building in the heart of the local community, both physically and emotionally

The changes she has made to the plan and its policies as a result also make no reference to the council.


Before alternative uses are considered, the availability of grant assistance and the option of charitable or community ownership should be explored in order to establish whether it is feasible to reinstate the historic use of this listed building as a centre for learning, cultural and social activities.


If it is demonstrated that reinstating the historic use of the Mechanics Institute as a centre for learning, cultural and social activities is not feasible, then other options for the future use of this listed building will be considered. Such uses should be sympathetic to, and compatible with, the historic character and role of the building, deliver public access to, and use of, the building’s main rooms as far as possible, and be of a nature that would not adversely impact on the amenity of Railway Village residents

That reads to me like it’s for the owner, Mr Singh, to demonstrate that his proposals are the only viable option… and for those who oppose his plans to demonstrate that they aren’t. Swindon Borough Council is the pawn in the middle, running the planning process. While the arguments rumble on, the Mechanics Institute continues to decay.

On the wrong track

One of the common features of pressure groups and campaigns is their one-tracked pursuit of their goals, impervious to whether the approach they are taking is so inappropriate as to actually prevent them being taken seriously, ultimately reducing the likelihood of them achieving their goals. So it is with the New Mechanics Institution Preservation Trust. They will be making representations to the planning inspector who is currently assessing Swindon Borough Council’s Central Area Action Plan. The plan covers many things and the Railway Village is a relatively small part of that… and the Mechanics Institute an even smaller part still.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly appropriate for the Mechanics Institute to be a topic for discussion during the inspector’s examination of the action plan, but her remit is limited to issues of planning policy and strategy. Who owns individual properties is not a planning policy matter. Using the examination, as they are, as a means for yet again peddling the Preservation Trust’s view that the Mechanics Institute should be in their their ‘community’ ownership for community use is way beyond what inspector’s remit. Wasting everyone’s time making arguments that aren’t relevant just annoys and detracts from the small smattering of arguments in the Trust’s case that the inspector can consider.

If they want to yet again be labelled as vexatious, the New Mechanics Institution Preservation Trust seem to be going the right way about it.

No defence

Whilst I have expressed my concerns about the information presented to the recent Licensing Panel of Swindon Borough Council, and find the licensing section of their website aimed more at applicants than objectors, to say, as the New Mechanics’ Institution Preservation Trust does that.

Only as things moved along did we come to understand what was permitted by the Licensing Act. It was our first effort to deal with licensing under the Act.

is no defence. The trust is a campaigning organisation. It has played the planning laws more many years; it knows how regulatory bodies in this country work. If you want to object, you read up on the rules about what you are allowed to object about first. That the owners of the GWR Mechanics’ Institution were successful in their licensing application comes as no surprise.

And for the Trust to claim that they are a ‘similar business’ to that proposed for the Institution by its owners suggests that the Trust have forgotten about all those differences they objected to so vociferously in the earlier planning applications.