WORK to transform the former GWR Carriage Works, in London Street, got under way yesterday.

Formerly part of the GWR works, more recently the site has become home to a range of car mechanics and other industrial businesses.

In March, the council’s development arm, Forward Swindon, set out its vision for the town centre which included plans to turn the Carriage Works into a hub of tech firms, start ups and the creative industries.

The project is designed to spearhead the transformation of the Railway Village quarter into the ‘Shoreditch’ of Swindon - a reference to a former dilapidated part of East London that is now home to hipster coffee shops, gluten-free delis and big names in the tech and creative start up market.

Stage one of the project will see a small section of the Carriage Works site turned into a mostly open-plan hot-desking facility with some space for break out rooms and conferencing.

A new entrance at ground level in London Street will be created, along with a mezzanine floor to increase space inside.

The first section of the facility, due to be completed by November, will have room for 70 to 80 desks with 100 more to follow in an adjacent space at a later date.

It is envisaged that most occupants will be single person start-ups or small scale businesses not yet ready to take on dedicated office space of their own.

Paul Chamberlain, the director of new development partnerships at Forward Swindon, said: “We know the demand is there as we’ve been inundated with inquiries - both from potential tenants and operators.

“We’re excited to see the start of the works and will be unveiling plans for the wider site in due course.”

However, despite the enthusiasm from the team behind the project, much of the detail has yet to be firmed up.

For example, interested tenants still don’t know how much it would cost to rent desk space or if parking will be available.

The prolonged nature of the work required to refit the remainder of the site, with the inevitable associated noise and disruption, may also detract from what Forward Swindon is marketing as a prime location close to the station and the town centre.

About £1m is being invested in phase one of the project but the space involved makes up only a small part of the wider Carriage Works site.

Future phases, which envisage anchor tenants taking on entire units or at least more significant floorspace, could take years to complete and will rely on income from earlier stages.

While the overall vision is ambitious, full completion of phase one will result in just a modest hot-desking facility. The transformative effect envisaged by Forward Swindon relies on the successful onward development of the wider Carriage Works site, not just this first phase.

Despite articulating a clear vision for the site and the nature of the businesses that they would like to attract, Forward Swindon has indicated that the direction of future development will be fluid and open to shaping by interested parties that come forward.

Chief executive Deborah Heenan described the scheme as “a something in a place that’s happening” which illustrated the absence of long-term certainty being projected.

Garry Perkins, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration, welcomed the start of the work.

He said: “Forward Swindon and the council have created a strong vision for the Carriage Works and we’re now seeing the fruits of this vision.

“The redevelopment will bring life back to these historic buildings, support business and regenerate the area.”

The redevelopment of the Carriage Works has not been without controversy with a number of competing ideas for how the building might best be used.

One school of thought, championed by North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson among others, is that Thomas Homes, the developers responsible for the successful transformation to the north of the railway, should have been invited to deliver the same high quality mix of residential and office use on the south side.

Another view is that the Carriage Works would make a suitable venue to house Swindon's new museum and art gallery - a view backed by more than 900 people who have signed a petition opposing an ambitious new building in favour of repurposing a heritage asset.