THE man responsible for leading Swindon’s bid to build a new £22m art gallery and museum has resigned, dealing the project a potentially crushing blow.

As a former head of collections and chief curator at the Science Museum, Hadrian Ellory-van Dekker’s appointment last March as director of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust was widely welcomed.

He took on responsibility for overseeing the project's fundraising strategy, managing the design and build of the new museum and art gallery and planning its forward programme of exhibitions and activities.

His departure, so soon after assuming the key role, leaves a considerable hole in terms of leadership and experience.

The decision itself risks sending a telling message to the wider museum community about the viability of the Trust's vision, at least in the near future.

In a statement, the Trust said that the outgoing director will continue to work closely with the remaining team to facilitate the transfer of work, and that they are committed to moving the project forward.

While the Trust is saying publicly that Mr Ellory-van Dekker's reasons for leaving the role are personal, the Adver understands that difficulties enganging with Swindon Borough Council and a failure to secure public support for the project were also significant factors.

Chairman of Trustees, Robert Hiscox, said: "We are very sad that Hadrian will be leaving, but we understand his decision in the circumstances.

"He has been very active on behalf of the trust and already achieved a lot since he has been with us, and we have thoroughly enjoyed working with him.

"We appreciate his loyal support in making the transfer as seamless as possible.”

Had it not been for furious efforts behind the scenes on Wednesday, chairman of trustees Robert Hiscox would also be heading out the door.

The Adver understands that he too had told colleagues of his intention to resign, citing similar reasons to those of Mr Ellory-van Dekker.

The trustees met for more than two hours last night in crisis talks fearing a double resignation blow.

It appears that while they were unable to hang on to their director, they were able - at least for now - to persuade the chairman of trustees to stay on.

Mr Hiscox has long been considered as the driving force behind the idea of a new museum and gallery to hold Swindon’s prestigious art collection.

As recently as a fortnight ago, he wrote about how the Trust’s ambitious vision would “encourage future investment in other heritage assets and re-position Swindon as a thriving cultural concern - a place where people will love to live, work and visit.”

The fact he came so close to walking away indicates either a significant change of heart on his part or a need to pose serious questions about the ongoing feasibility of the whole project.

Mr Ellory-van Dekker's departure is a further indication that a £10m bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, planned for November, is now unlikely to go ahead with any chance of success.

Demonstrable community engagement and evidence of public support are among the key criteria required to secure heritage lottery funding and thus far the project has been lacking in both.

The decision to house the planned gallery and museum in an extravagant new building adjacent to the Wyvern Theatre has failed to energise the public, with the most vocal opponents of the scheme arguing the public were never involved in the decision making process.

When the car park that stood on the site until last year was finally demolished, senior councillors said it would mark the start of a regeneration phase that would transform the area into a new ‘cultural quarter’.

But a petition launched by campaigner Ana Kelly, calling for the extravagant new-build plans to be abandoned and for the gallery and museum to be housed in the Carriage Works on London Street instead, has been signed by more than 700 people so far.

The petition represented a significant backward step for the bid’s chances of success and is likely to have factored in to the resignation decisions.

Mr Ellory-van Dekker was due to be the lead speaker at a public event later this month where the Trust hoped to inject new life into the project after a faltering start.

It is not known whether that event will now go ahead at all.