Author Topic: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??  (Read 156858 times)

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Offline Karsten

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #500 on: March 06, 2014, 11:08:56 PM »
it's not 8 yrs more like 30yrs.
M. Singh(Forefront Estates ltd) bought it in 2002, Mountmead Ltd had it over 20yrs before that.

As for Muse and Kimmerfields.. there are already lots of office buildings with vacant floors in Swindon... 
The bus station was supposed to have been moved years ago, and lots of other things should have happened but never have.

Forward Swindon is the 3rd or 4th incarnation of New Swindon company or what ever SCS call it.
It is just as stupid a use of council money as Digital City was.

Offline Geoff Reid

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #501 on: March 07, 2014, 01:54:42 AM »
Hotel.

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ph1lc

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #502 on: March 07, 2014, 09:04:24 AM »

Forward Swindon is the 3rd or 4th incarnation of New Swindon company or what ever SCS call it.
It is just as stupid a use of council money as Digital City was.

A whole new can of worms  - but you most certainly aren't wrong there!!!

Offline the gorgon

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #503 on: March 07, 2014, 03:28:14 PM »
A bit Hobsons' choice really isn't it - hotel.

With a decent architect it might even have been possible to do a good job of integrating the new with the old.

Offline Des Morgan

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #504 on: March 07, 2014, 11:03:40 PM »
Quote
it's not 8 yrs more like 30yrs

Indeed it is. I was being kind (i know that's hard to credit) by just referring to the timeline when Mr Singh was given permission to undertake limited development.

In truth, the MI the Old College Building and the Corn Exchange (the Locarno) have been bedevilled by people with honourable intentions, who cared more for the historical aspect  and ignored the fact that without a commercial proposition - a heritage philanthropist or public money (say from a body which is happy to spend hundreds of millions on London based opera) there really is no private money to secure the future of old buildings.

Emotional ties are important and some would say essential  - I was very sad when they knocked down all the houses along Princes Street - but that was progressive 'at the time'.

Offline Muggins

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #505 on: March 08, 2014, 08:51:36 AM »
I hardly think that the old houses in Princes street could be classed the same as MI, Locarno whoops, Corn exchange and the old College.  They were more or less slums anyway as was much of the housing that went in those days.

Maybe the historical aspect of the buildings is valued more by those whose families contributed to them in some way? If those people had not been interested in them, we wouldn't be arguing about them today.

People tend to forget that although we are a fairly new town, we managed a lot of 'first's' back then, for that reason alone, maybe, the original use should also be preserved. Preserving the buildings should not have been this difficult.  The difficulty has come with the length of time it has taken and bad mistakes made along the way.

And those mistakes were NOT made by those trying to raise awareness of the need to preserve them.
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Offline the gorgon

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #506 on: March 08, 2014, 09:25:25 AM »
Swindon's problem is return on investment, a listed building in Swindon will cost nearly as much to restore as one in Oxford. But because property prices are higher in Oxford they'll still make a healthy profit.

There was time in the late 80's when Swindon was still booming when a company thought they could make a go of hotel, but TBC and local busybodies scuppered that (the 90s recession was the final nail in the coffin).  Those days are gone and may never return unless something drastic happens in Swindon, like a major new employer or even a university coming here.

Offline Tobes

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #507 on: March 08, 2014, 09:30:01 AM »
I agree with pretty much everything you have to say on this subject Des

The situation is the classic cleft-stick. Commercial use need to be viable and sustainable before someone will commit to taking on an old building. But developers and commercial purposes regard the historical, cultural or aesthetic importance of a building as utterly irrelevant to their turning a buck.

And therein lies the problem.

If we roll-over to developers, we know that CLEARLY there would barely be a Victorian (or older) building left standing in the town. Once upon a time a building represented an enormous investment in time and expertise - but now, thanks to the price of land, its the footprint of the property which is the valuable bit: the bricks and mortar is the cheap part, relatively speaking.

The crux of the problem lies in what we think buildings are actually for.

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but that was progressive 'at the time'.

And that's the issue. If buildings have become purely functional weather-proof boxes, which can be built according to a very limited lifespan and purpose, then 'progressive' has simply become cant for disposable. Thats the big problem for me. For all the guff about sustainability and green politics entering into the world of construction, what they're really about is treating buildings like templated prefabs. Of course, its in the construction industry's interest to be a new broom continually sweeping clean because thats what keeps them in employment.

But I can't help thinking that we're not only making a mockery of the idea of 'reduce, reuse, recycle', we're also ignoring the richness of culture that respecting a town's heritage can bring. Its no accident that Swindon is chav capital of the west, in which a large majority of people espouse such unimaginative and bland aspirations. Do they reflect the appearance of the town, or does the appearance of the town reflect them?

Its back to Swindon's 'brand' - and the sooner that politicians, planners, investors and developers get this through their thick but greedy heads, the better: JUST ASK ANYONE WHO DOESN'T LIVE HERE [though it increasingly applies to those of us who are coming round to moving elsewhere too] WHAT THEIR PERCEPTION IS OF THE TOWN.

Buildings and architecture are responsible for a huge element of the negativity which blights our town.

But instead of addressing it, we're still making it worse in the name of 'progress'. I have absolutely no doubt what-so-ever that Kimmerfields and Regents will look any better in fifteen years than the disgusting mess we were bequeathed in the 1960s.

Grand visions almost never work out in the long run as they're always about delivering the wants, desires and fashions of now, not tomorrow.

To put things right for the town would require a blend of imagination, subtle and a preparedness to be uncompromising when proposed developments don't blend the needs of commercial viability with long term sustainability and preservation of heritage. We're simply not going to get it from our current generation of politicians, are we?

To my mind, the Retail Outlet was a shining example of how the duality of heritage and commercial re-use need not be mutually exclusive. Intelligent compromise has to be the key to finding a way forward.
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Offline Des Morgan

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #508 on: March 08, 2014, 10:09:48 AM »
Quote
They were more or less slums anyway as was much of the housing that went in those days.


You are quite wrong on this one Muggins - The houses in Beckhampton Street and Princes Street were homes which just happened to be 'in the wrong place'

The MI is more of a slum than any home that was destroyed in the name of progress.

Offline Des Morgan

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #509 on: March 08, 2014, 10:11:57 AM »
Quote
To my mind, the Retail Outlet was a shining example of how the duality of heritage and commercial re-use need not be mutually exclusive. Intelligent compromise has to be the key to finding a way forward.

Spot on analysis. if our town centre resembled the Outlet Village it really would be a 'gem' - but it doesn't and it's not.

Interestingly the expansion of the Outlet Village is the complete opposite to the contraction in the town centre

Offline Richard Symonds

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #510 on: March 08, 2014, 01:28:25 PM »
One of the possibilities for the Mechanics' would have been to locate the New Library in a full restored building, and for that we could have got some Lottery Money, but it wasn't to be.

As you all know the Mechanics' had a very successful lending library and it was one of the first in the country.

Does anyone know why David Murray John chose to build a new library for the town separate from the Mechanics' in 1941?

Sadly all this is might have been and as the Trust seem unable or unwilling to come up with a commercial alternative I am starting to err on the side of someone coming forward with a good design to turn it into a hotel, but do we even need another one?  I suggest not.

So the state of limbo will continue until it falls down as it would appear no one has the ability or even want to or do anything constructive with it.

and finally be careful what you wish for Karsten because if you do get the building the Council will immediately slap a works order on you and that would bankrupt you!  If you protected yourself with limited liability you would not even be considered as they want to get rid of this poltice around their necks.
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Offline Spunkymonkey

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #511 on: March 08, 2014, 01:43:11 PM »
So the state of limbo will continue until it falls down as it would appear no one has the ability or even want to or do anything constructive with it.

and finally be careful what you wish for Karsten because if you do get the building the Council will immediately slap a works order on you and that would bankrupt you!  If you protected yourself with limited liability you would not even be considered as they want to get rid of this poltice around their necks.

Exactly. It is ironic that the listed status intended to protect the building has actually condemned it.

If English Heritage believe the building is worthy of listed status, why don't they buy it and restore it? If they don't value the building enough to save it, why not de-list it?

Offline Richard Symonds

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #512 on: March 08, 2014, 06:03:34 PM »
Exactly. It is ironic that the listed status intended to protect the building has actually condemned it.

If English Heritage believe the building is worthy of listed status, why don't they buy it and restore it? If they don't value the building enough to save it, why not de-list it?

Readers may be aware that the old works turntable still exists in the shrubbery in front of the old pattern store now an Italian Restaurant who I believe now own the free hold on which it sits!!  Not that anyone is aware that it is there, not least of all the enthusiasts!  It should be part of the Railway experience tour that used to be taken around the railway village.  Is the old foreman's cottage still an exhibit Bob?

Some years ago now I tried to get the turntable to Minehead to join other Swindon artifacts on the West Somerset Railway and sadly English Heritage decreed it must stay where it is and now it is slowly disintegrating into a pile of iron oxide. Is this a result or unnecessary interference that has achieved nothing?  Does this remind anyone of what faces us here with the Mechanics'?  The West Somerset Railway successfully extended their existing turntable which came from Pwellhi, but it is significant that at the end of the day that it cost more to rebuild than it would have cost to build a new one from scratch.  Restoration is never cheap.
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Offline bobwright

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #513 on: March 08, 2014, 11:09:20 PM »
This a really thought provoking thread. My own views and context of the Mechanics have been expressed on Talkswindon and via some videos which Geoff has put on Talkswindon/Youtube.

I believe the Mechanics is central to a regenerated heritage site which outside of the South/Western docks is the largest in the South West. It stretches from the Outlet to the Railway Station North and South of the line. Add the redeveloped Oasis site which should have the countries largest Snow Dome and a 8000 seater centre will provide Swindon with its own distinct major family attraction. We do not need to keep looking at other Towns/Cities ideas for tourism and economic growth we will have our own Swindon identity aimed at families.

The Railway Cottage will be part of the heritage offer. The management transfer to the National Trust and Steam did not improve visits, a new approach is being looked at. This could lead to a heritage tours for school children etc. The transfer to new management is ongoing however I hope it is linked to other heritage experience such as Steam.

Regarding the Turntable I will see what is happening however I would rather it stay with the local railway society as part of the wider local  heritage experience.

Offline Karsten

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #514 on: March 09, 2014, 04:28:22 AM »
Bob,

You have been Central's Councillor for quite some time and should know all there is to know about the legal issues etc with the MI.
So since SBC have power of Sale, would they pass it on to a CIC ltd company if it meant that some one could go for funding etc?

If not would the Council allow interested residents to talk to possible companies, institutions, etc that might find the MI of interest.
Perhaps a MI volunteer group could be used to help keep the building safe, clear weeds/growth etc perhaps fix guttering.   
The building still has trees growing in masonry and I read that some repairs were in dire need for the north roof.
I would gladly spend time at weekends and some evenings.   I'd sign a disclaimer too so any injuries were my own responsibility.
So liability insurance would be a stopper.
I sure others might too.

Just saying it is unsafe and no one must enter is daft and irresponsible.  A stitch in time saves nine!
If more of the roof collapses it will be because of SCS inaction.

The biggest stumbling block is ownership or being able to discuss the building with some authority.
No one is interested if you don't own or speak for someone that owns the building.

In all practical terms SBC do 'own' the building as they are the ONLY charge holder.

So what does SBC really want to happen with the MI?
Leave it in Limbo and hope something doesn't happen or perhaps does???




How much does the MI cost SBC with scaffolding and regular safety checkups?
What work/cost is needed to check up on the Scaffold roof?

What are the legal demands regarding liability insurance?  Is there any.  You are not legally required for a house, so?
If SBC is self insuring then it will pay for any damage for debris from the MI?


Has SBC consulted with any companies and instituions about possible uses/sale/letting of the MI?  If so which ones?
The Lime Kiln in Wooton Bassett is great example of how old building can have a new life? 
Camden Market is also an example of how a derelict area can be slowly rebuilt and become an attraction.

The Felden Clegg report SBC paid for stated that the MI was key to a rejuvenation of the Railway Area and with the Tunnel also on a path linking The new Outlet Centre with Swindon Town centre.
It was the Market, why not allow it to have a small indoor market every Sunday in what was the Reading room.
I'm sure the Art College would love to use it as an art Exhibition.

Key to all this is ownership.. by someone interested in seeing the building either kept safe (moth balled) or brought back into use bit by bit over yrs or decades.



Offline bobwright

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #515 on: March 09, 2014, 09:26:27 AM »
karsten - I am working with others to get to a point where public involvement is possible. I may be the ward councillor however I am not in administration. I am questioning the delays which seem to have no foundation considering the progress which was made early last year.
I am committed to finding a sustainable solution.

Offline the gorgon

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #516 on: March 10, 2014, 10:20:14 PM »
Mind the gap: London v the rest on BBC 2, very sobering watching for a town the size of Swindon...

If it reflects government thinking at the moment we shouldn't expect any money to redevelop the MI it's up to either us or big business.  Big money arts centres and redevelopments don't work if they're in the wrong place (i.e. outside the big cities) and the business model needs to be based on hard reality not pipe dreams (even Bristol couldn't sustain the commonwealth museum next to temple meads).

Even more depressingly it pretty much said that towns have to grow if the demand is there and we need to accept we're going to be a spoke for the hubs of London and Bristol. It seemed to contradict what most people think about Swindon needing to consolidate before expanding again, basically in order to get better infrastructure and facilities that we want Swindon has to get bigger as otherwise the hubs will suck the life out.

Offline Muggins

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #517 on: March 11, 2014, 08:29:27 AM »
That thinking was clear going back some years, at meetings about Spatial Strategy etc, and there used to be a lot more information and chances to discuss it face to face than there is now, towns like Gloucester, Cheltenham etc. all were saying "let Swindon take it".

At the time, we had sensible, knowledgeable local people fighting it for us, or at least people we could align ourselves with and trust to take us down a well researched planning objection with half a chance of winning.  Who is there now?

We also had officers that, even if they had to play the borough game, could give us guidance on where to find alternative arguments for ourselves.  We grumbled then, but in retrospect there was a modicum of mutual respect for the activist and a well oiled information exchange.   And that all important chance to stand up and say your piece. I sued to come out of those sessions/meeting invigorated, still feeling like we were doomed, but at least with a modicum of hope. 

This changed about 10 years ago, what happened then to make that change?
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Offline the gorgon

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #518 on: March 11, 2014, 08:54:20 AM »
What happened 10 years ago?  My guess is policy silently changed from the post-war one of actively encouraging the movement of private sector money and jobs out of places like London to a policy of may the best man win and if it's London then it's London.  Hence SBC greedily going after the crumbs of private sector jobs or being prepared to sacrifice Coate for a university - it's just that nobody bothered telling us.


Offline Muggins

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Re: Mechanics Institute - Just what is going on??
« Reply #519 on: March 11, 2014, 10:10:39 AM »
I can't place what happened, many changes took place and a seemingly complete U-turn on community involvement and engagement - the more they spoke about doing it the less it happened, it was/is like some national confidence trick.  A sort of 'We'll tell them we want them to engage more and that they need to do it more' but the more they talked the more barriers they put up to it happening.

Those already very active were more or less accused of standing in front making a barrier for this unseen and unknown army of people who couldn't get past us to engage, that was nonsense of course, the reason we were there, was because we were the only people that would to do it - put our heard over the parapet so to speak.

It started under the last government so it was wasn't a change there, in fact we thought things were looking up, however any policy that was maybe intended to work has changed under this government - well not changed so much as interpreted differently. Add to that the money crisis, the cut backs in local government, the constant changes, etc. etc.

Ironically they did this whilst giving us awards for doing what we did? 

Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)