TRUSTEES at the centre of the Lydiard Park affair have suggested the council “reverse engineered” the £850,000 figure originally earmarked for maintenance costs.

Following the breakdown of a deal between Swindon Borough Council and the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust, an agreement which would have seen the trust take over the running of Lydiard Park and House, sources at the centre of the saga have questioned the process by which the council calculated maintenance costs.

The deal collapsed last week when the two parties failed to reach an agreement over the backlog repair bill.

In the spring of 2016, the council undertook an in-house condition survey and found that £850,000 worth of repairs needed to be made to Lydiard House, which for the past decade has not been properly maintained.

But the trust claim they were first made aware of the £850,000 figure in late 2015, months before the council’s in-house survey discovered how much needed to be spent.

When the trust later commissioned their own survey, it was found that almost £5m of repair work was required to bring the grade one-listed building up to a suitable standard. And at a meeting in November 2017, both parties agreed with more than 80 per cent of the work items listed on the trust’s survey.

Because of this, the trust has suggested that the £850,000 figure originally put forward by SBC was “reverse engineered”, accusing the council of essentially plucking the figure out of the air with little reference to the real maintenance needs of Lydiard House.

Mike Bowden, chairman of the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust, said: “At best, the survey did not fully identify the schedule of outstanding backlog maintenance that was required. At worst, their surveyors were under pressure to produce a report to fit a conclusion the council had already decided upon.”

He said: “Some would refer to that as ‘reverse engineering’, but either way, it is the wrong way around. The correct order must be survey, conclusion, announcement, and we don’t think that was the order.”

In late 2017, the trust wrote to the council outlining their concerns. They claimed there had been an acceptance that the in-house survey had been reverse engineered to justify the £850,000 figure, rather than being a comprehensive assessment of backlog maintenance. This point, according to the trust, was not rebutted, or even addressed by the council. 

The suggestion of reverse engineering was yesterday put to Councillor Garry Perkins, the cabinet member responsible for regeneration. Accepting that the sum had been calculated before the survey was undertaken, he said: “The £850,000 figure did come before the report, but it was intended purely as a contribution. The two figures were never meant to be comparable.”

Coun Perkins stressed that there was nothing wrong with the council’s survey but that the £850,000 was only ever intended as a “contribution” towards fixing repairs, and was never meant to address all of the backlog maintenance.

In a statement, the council said: “The survey that was undertaken in 2016 was carried out at the request of the trust and reconfirmed our initial estimates of the value of the most urgent works that would need to be carried out on the house.”

The £850,000 figure, they stressed, was “always only a contribution from the council to get work underway”.

“There was always an expectation that the successful bidder would add to that contribution through the income generated from the country house and park.”