One of Swindon’s heritage landmarks is among the most endangered buildings in the country.

The Corn Exchange, known to many as the Locarno, has been put on the top 10 of historic buildings at risk by the Victorian Society.

The Old Town building, which dates back to 1852, has been empty for decades and has its roof missing, with vegetation growing inside and has been the target for vandalism.

The society said: “Urgent action is needed to save this historic and imposing building from being lost forever”

And its director Christopher Costelloe added: “Swindon is now a Heritage Action Zone, and this building is one of several prominent historic buildings in Swindon that should be a priority.

“An imaginative and sensitive scheme is needed to return the complex to its place at the heart of the town’s life.”

At the moment the site, which is in private ownership, is the subject of a development plan by businessman Steve Rosier.

He wants to convert the building, built as a marketplace and then used as a dancehall and cinema, into flats and shops and restaurants.

But while his plan originally suggested showhomes would be open this year, it is still a derelict shell.

Mr Rosier has been given until the end of the month to prove to Swindon Borough Council that he has the money to be able to proceed with the plans.

Sally Hawson, the founder of campaign group Save Swindon’s Heritage, is also worried.

She said: “I don’t doubt that the owner and developer are sincere in their intentions towards the buildings.

“But it has happened elsewhere that such listed historic buildings, which can be difficult to convert, but are on valuable land, can be left to fall apart.

“Then when the building is beyond repair, it can be pulled down and a prime site can be converted for housing much cheaper. The site on the High Street, in Old Town must be worth millions. It’s absolutely critical that such an important historic building is properly restored for Swindon.”

While Swindon Borough Council does not own the building, it does own the land used as car parks on either side, and it has threatened in the past to take action either to force work, or to take the building back.

The cabinet member for the town centre Dale Heenan said: "For more than 20 years, the grade II listed Corn Exchange and Mechanics’ Institute in the Railway Village have been derelict, and yet these are our towns two most prominent heritage buildings.

“Since I took over as the Conservative cabinet member for heritage, I have been determined to find solutions because we cannot stand back and let our town’s heritage disappear. “

Coun Heenan said the first priority was to work with Historic England on the Mechanic’s Institute but added: “The Corn Exchange is not being forgotten about. I spoke with the owner of the Corn Exchange earlier this week, and there is a genuine desire to secure a new future for the building.

“The Victorian Society agrees with me, we need a sympathetic and imaginative solution, so I welcome the recent comments made by the independent design review panel who have reviewed the latest plans. I look forward to Steve Rosier, the developer, submitting a planning application because it is now up to him to deliver.

“To further support these efforts, in July, the council submitted a £2m bid for Old Town to be designated as a Historic High Street. The Corn Exchange will be crucial to the success of that bid.”

Mr Rosier has been contacted for comment.