THE team behind the £12 million bid for funding for a new Swindon Museum & Art Gallery have been told not to reapply.

In a letter seen exclusively by the Adver, the Heritage Lottery Fund laid out a damning list of reasons for its rejection of the controversial project, including the fact there was vocal opposition.

Julie Cooper, the HLF’s casework manager, revealed the board had significant concerns about the proposed museum and art gallery’s risks and expressed uncertainty about its benefits.

She wrote: “Project risks were considered to be high, with concerns about project costs, the level of unsecured partnership funding and project management arrangements.

"The project had the potential to deliver economic and regeneration benefits, but the timescale for doing this was uncertain and dependent on future enabling development.

“The board considered that the proposals were a step-change in operation and management of the museum, and that future sustainability was high risk. Proposals for learning and engagement were considered to be underdeveloped for a project of this scale.”

The HLF said collections were considered to be of considerable importance but were not at risk and the project would not fully address the storage needs of the collection.

She concluded: “As we expect strong competition for our funds to continue, we recommend that you should not consider reapplying to us for this project in its current form.”

The proposals were met with fierce opposition from some who thought the council should make better use of existing heritage assets.

This opposition was recognised by the HLF, although it though acknowledged good support from the project’s partners. SMAG Trust and Swindon Borough Council consulted widely before submitting the bid.

Trust director Rod Hebden, said: “We were disappointed that the board of the HLF wasn’t able to award us the round one pass.

“In all of our meetings, and during the assessment visit, the feedback on the project and the bid had been glowing. The conversations we’ve had suggest that the political and financial context has changed, even in the last few months.”

He added:“All large projects, working within tight budgets, have a high level of inherent risk to manage. Whilst we are confident that we had everything in place to manage them well, we understand the HLF was looking for lower scale, lower risk projects in the current political and economic environment.

“Securing HLF funding for the project would allow the council to press ahead with the rest of the plans for the cultural quarter. However, until the cultural quarter development was under way, the HLF saw a risk that the new museum would be isolated.

“The reaction we got from people all over Swindon when we consulted over the summer was overwhelmingly positive.

“However, there was still some opposition online, and whilst much of it seemed be driven by conspiracy theories and misinformation, a lot of it was also genuinely from people who care about Swindon’s heritage.

“The key thing to learn is that major projects need to speak with, and listen to, people earlier.

The HLF did offer some small consolation: “We would be happy to have a discussion about the future priorities for investment in the heritage of Swindon in the context of our new strategic funding framework which will be launched next year.”