Widespread dismay has greeted the suggestion that Swindon Museum and Art Gallery might be closed for an indefinite length of time.

And the angry response has changed the way the council is going to consider whether to keep Apsley House in Bath Road – which has been closed since March 2020 – shut for good.

The man in charge, councillor Dale Heenan, was set to make a decision of some sort today – but he has now asked for a full report to be prepared to be put before his Conservative cabinet colleagues.

Last week a cabinet member decision note was produced which recommended that Coun Heenan approve the closure of the building, moving the museum and art galleries collections and declaring Apsley House surplus to council requirements. 

The move would make a £33,000 saving on an £189,000 museum and gallery budget.

Coun Heenan was due to make a decision to either approve the recommendation, refer it up to the full cabinet or ask for it to be reconsidered today.

Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for heritage and culture said: “I am determined to see our nationally important art collection shared with the widest possible audience, and for a new Art Gallery and Museum to be delivered that Swindon can be proud of.

“Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is an essential service, and the provision and collections have never been under threat – that is something I would never agree to.

“A persuasive case was made by the professional officers running Swindon Museum and Art Gallery that Apsley House is not fit for purpose and for years barely attracted 30 visitors a day before Covid hit, so focusing efforts on a new purpose-built facility is in the best interests of the art collection and museum artefacts.

“Knowing these issues, council officers wrote a discussion paper and last week confidentially discussed ideas on what should happen with the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and also informed local ward councillors. 

"This was correctly done at the very start of the engagement process, and I’m told the participants left happy.

“In light of concerns, I have asked officers to prepare a full cabinet report on the future of Apsley House, and the potential to relocate the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to a new home.

“I can be clear. The future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in our town is safe, and there is a long-term costed plan. 

"Art is currently, and will remain, on display around the town.”

Labour Old Town councillor Jane Milner-Barry is one of many upset at the thought of  the building being closed and the collections being hidden away until a new venue is found.

“This is not a ward issue, it’s a Swindon issue," she said. 

"The art and artefacts belong to the citizens of Swindon, not to the council. 

"The council is charged with taking care of them for us, so we all see as many of them as possible.”

A Facebook group called Save Swindon Museum and Art Gallery was set up which has already attracted more than 900 members.

One, Kath Danswan, wrote: “It would be a great loss to Swindon and to Old Town if we lost the gallery where at least part of the wonderful modern art collection can be seen. 

"Keep fighting for it."

Dianna Leigh added: “It’s an outrage to close Apsley House and make such a fine collection of modern art unavailable to the community.”