THE controversial £12m bid for a new museum and art gallery for Swindon has been rejected.

But the team behind the scheme say their hard work was all worth it and said they would now explore alternatives.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has confirmed that the funding bid for the new museum has failed, prompting those leading the project to suggest looking at “alternative possibilities”.

The news will come as a blow to the council’s dream of creating a thriving cultural quarter in the town centre.

The HLF declined to provide specifics on why it was rejected, but the fund always receives more applications than it has the cash to support.

On this occasion, the HLF was, quite simply, “unable to make a major award to the Swindon museum and art gallery project”.

Robert Hiscox, the chairman of the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery Trust, the body leading the project, said: “The work done on the bid has not been wasted, as the profile of Swindon’s culturally-important collections has been raised locally and nationally, and has generated huge amounts of engagement around the importance of culture to the people of Swindon.

“We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received and want to thank everyone for all their hard work and passion.”

He added: “For the last few years we have been very focused on the bid but now we have the opportunity to step back and explore options and look at alternative possibilities.”

The proposals for the museum and art gallery had met with fierce opposition from those who think the council ought to make better use of the town’s heritage assets – most notably, the Carriage Works and the Mechanics Institute.

A petition set up to oppose the plans gained around 2,500 signatures.

But David Renard, leader of the council, has always insisted that Swindon’s art collection would be better housed in the proposed new museum.

Reflecting on the failed bid, he said: “We're disappointed the trust’s bid was not selected by the HLF but we will not let this setback dim our ambition for a new museum and art gallery.

“The feedback we received from the HLF throughout the bid process was greatly encouraging and that, coupled with the huge show of public support we received, has made us even more determined to give our magnificent collections of art and historical artefacts an appropriate home.”

Seeking to remind people of the potential asset the museum could be, he said: “It would not only encourage millions of people to Swindon, but act as a catalyst for significant investment in the surrounding area, acting as a symbol of our ambition for the town.”

The bid enjoyed cross-party support, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats both lending it their full support. But failure to gain HLF funding will likely be the catalyst for some in the heritage community to insist that the council should drop the project and focus on restoring the assets already here.

Coun Renard added: “We knew we were up against some extremely tough competition, but we're committed to regenerating the cultural quarter area, which will include the Wyvern Theatre.

“We will be working with the trust, stakeholders and residents on all the options and will announce these in due course.”