Corn Exchange in Swindon still in limbo two years after being declared at risk

FEARS are growing for the future of one of Swindon’s most important landmarks – two years after it was declared one of the most endangered buildings in the country.

There has been no visible progress at the site of the crumbling Corn Exchange – or Locarno – since it was put in the top 10 of historic buildings at risk by the Victorian Society in 2019.

The Old Town building, which dates back to 1852, has been empty for decades and Swindon Borough Council remains locked in discussions with its owner.

But ward councillor for Old Town and East Wichel Nick Burns-Howell says now is the time for the local authority to take definitive action. 

“It’s frustrating to see that there’s been no progress, yet again, on the Corn Exchange,” he said.

“The Corn Exchange is one of the most important buildings, not just in Old Town, but right across Swindon, the council has to do everything it can to protect this building.

“Time is running out for the Corn Exchange and the private owner needs to come forward with sustainable plans in the short-term, or the council must step in.”

In January, it was suggested that if owner of the property Gael Mackenzie did not come up with a workable plan to regenerate it by June, the borough council would step in. The options available include a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO). 

Coun Burns-Howell added: “As far as I’m aware no full planning application has been submitted by the end of June as per the resolution I helped pass earlier this year.”

Other options available to the council before they issue a CPO would be an Urgent Works Notice that authorises Historic England to make necessary repairs or a Repairs Notice that compels the owner to preserve the building. 

Cabinet member for culture, heritage, leisure and town centre experience Robert Jandy confirmed the Corn Exchange was now in council leader David Renard’s portfolio. 

Coun Renard said: “The Old Town Corn Exchange is an iconic landmark and an important heritage asset for Swindon. 

“Although the Council does not own the actual Corn Exchange building, we have been actively trying to give it a new lease of life for several years and took the decisive decision last year to terminate the development agreement for the site after a number of deadlines to bring forward the scheme were missed by the developer.

“We are now working directly with the building’s owner to bring forward a new scheme to restore the Corn Exchange, which is deliverable and which will enhance the local area.”

Mr Mackenzie has been approached for comment.

The Victorian Society caseworker assigned to the iconic Old Town property added there is no update from the charity, but it would be happy to help the council find a resolution.  

Olivia Stockdale, case worker for Southern and Eastern England at the Victorian Society, said: “The Locarno is an important landmark in Swindon. 

“Its varied past shows a potential for the building to be restored and find a new use, and we are hoping to see a solution soon that can bring this unique building back to life, and is sympathetic to its architectural heritage.

“The Victorian Society is happy to discuss any plans with the council at the early stages of the planning process.”

The society has made progress with several listed Victorian and Edwardian buildings in a state of disrepair.

The Hulme Hippodrome in Manchester and the Chatterly Whitfield Colliery near Chell in Staffordshire were both fellow 2019 entries that have seen progress since featuring on the list.

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