A COMMUNITY group is set to be named as the preferred bidder to take over the running of Lydiard Park and House when the council's cabinet meets next week.

The Lydiard Park Heritage Trust saw off competition from fellow community group, the Love Lydiard Trust, and commercial leisure provider, Twigmarket, in what has been a year-long process.

Their bid for a 50-year-lease on the much loved site was praised by council officers for the heritage expertise of the core team as well as the record of key trustees in accessing Heritage Lottery funding.

The trust believes that improvements in the existing hospitality offering can bring about a sustainable future for the house and park while retaining its historic fabric and the character that is loved by so many.

If councillors decide to approve the trust's status as preferred bidders when the cabinet meets next week, a period of due diligence will follow with final confirmation expected towards the end of the year.

The new team would anticipate taking control in early 2018.

Chairman of the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust, Mike Bowden, said: "The trustees continue to meet regularly to prepare for the next chapter for Lydiard House and Park.

"We are pleased to have convinced the bid assessment team as to the merits of our vision for Lydiard and we look forward to next week's cabinet meeting when the formal decision is to be made."

Over the past two years, the site has cost the council around £460,000 a year to run.

While parking revenue has reduced that figure considerably, the unprecedented financial pressures facing local authorities across the UK make it a cost the council cannot continue to bear.

Garry Perkins, the cabinet member responsible for Lydiard, said: “This has been a long, thorough and fair process and I am delighted we are now in a position to present a preferred bidder.

“Lydiard is a key asset for people in Swindon and we need to ensure it has a sustainable future within the council’s ownership. I would like to thank all the bidders for the time, effort and passion they have shown throughout the bidding exercise.

"We had two very strong bids from both the community trusts, but ultimately the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust came out on top in the scoring."

Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon and trust patron, said: "This is very encouraging news. The council made a brave and correct decision to embark upon a competitive bid process for Lydiard and I am optimistic that the cabinet will accept the recommendation put to them.

"I'm sure Lydiard being in the hands of a community based not for profit trust will meet with widespread local support."

Jim Robbins, Labour's culture spokesman, said: "We are delighted that the campaign we supported to keep Lydiard in public control has been successful and are looking forward to working constructively with the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust to make sure the park and house remain a jewel in the crown for Swindon.

"We were really pleased that two community groups came forward and put in such high-quality bids, and hope that the team from Love Lydiard will work with the heritage trust to incorporate the best of their ideas."