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Swindon Council snaps up old register office as part of centre revamp
SWINDON Council is making moves to buy two large properties as part of a future bid to regenerate another area of the town centre.
Forward Swindon, the council’s regeneration firm, has exchanged contracts with a private landlord to buy Aspen House, in Temple Street, which was once the home of Swindon’s register office and now contains about 80,000sq ft of empty office space, plus an empty retail unit fronting onto Regent Street.
The council intends to demolish the building, which is deemed too old to upgrade, and create a temporary pocket park there until its can be used as part of a possible regeneration, focusing on the council-owned Granville Street car park and surrounding land.
As part of its programme of strategic acquisitions for the potential scheme, Forward Swindon is also in negotiations to buy another property, in Regent Street, which has not yet been identified but is virtually fully-let with shops and offices, which have long-term leases.
The council’s maximum budget for the two purchases is £1.75m and the Regent Street purchase would be financed by prudential borrowing.
Swindon Council was recently outbid at an auction to gain a small car park at the end of Morley Street, although this is not seen as crucial and officers and Forward Swindon will continue to monitor opportunities for further purchases in the area immediately surrounding Granville Street car park.
This is the same area which would have been developed under the Modus scheme, a victim of the downturn in 2009, which was planned to feature a 100,000sq ft Debenhams store, as well as retail and leisure units, 170 city-style apartments and 800 car parking spaces.
Coun Garry Perkins, cabinet member for regeneration and culture, said: “We are looking to enable a future development there because we have the big Muse development towards the east side and we need to balance it up with a big development on the west side, which is actually where Modus was going to be.
“Just because Modus isn’t able to go ahead, that doesn’t mean it’s dead.
“So if we’re able to put together a package of development land for when the economy improves, hopefully we can get a developer who wants to develop that part of the town.
“We are looking at a development from behind Commercial Road up to the top end of town.
“There’s no plan at the moment but it was purely a case that the opportunity arose and that property was empty and it’s one of the major properties we would need to develop that area, and therefore it was an opportunity that the council took through Forward Swindon to purchase it.”
Chris Hitchings, Forward Swindon’s director of development, said: “What they’re being bought for is they’re strategic purchases for future regeneration purposes.
“There’s nothing on the stocks at the moment because of the way the market is, but they’re seen as good purchases for future regeneration projects.
“Aspen House is of a strategic nature. The other one is an income-producing unit that will, before it’s a part of a regeneration scheme or development, will make money for the council.”