A GOVERNMENT planner heard heated debate over whether plans for the Mechanics' Institute would allow enough access for Swindon people.

Linda Wride, of the Planning Inspectorate, chaired the meeting at the Pilgrim Centre, in Regents Circus.

Representatives from the council's planning and conservation departments, Swindon Civic Trust, the New Mechanics' Preservation Trust and residents voiced their concerns about the Railway Village conservation area.

The council backs plans to see the Mechanics' Institute converted into a hotel and flats but wants to keep public access.

The New Mechanics' Trust wants the historic building to be entirely run by the community for the community.

Martha Parry, from the trust, said: "We are concerned about the definition of public access, in that by converting the Mechanics into a hotel it could be considered accessible to any member of the public willing to pay to use the hotel."

Council conservation officer Liz Smith said there should be some access by members of the public.

But she said: "That may not be wholesale access. We would not consider flats accessible to the public. But I think that conversion into a hotel would, or could, be considered."

Railway Village resident Brian Cockbill said: "The best use will very often be the use for which the building was originally designed.

"Reinstating that use should certainly be the first option."

Council planning officer David Dewart said a Railway Village Improvement Trust was in the process of being set up to gauge opinion from council tenants living in the area.

Linda Wride said she would consider whether the Health Hydro and Milton Road Baths should be included into the application to make the area a World Heritage Site.

"The Great Western Heath Centre and baths were part of the inspiration for the National Health Service," she said.

"The application for World Heritage Site status should take that into consideration. And the council has no objections."

It will be several months before the planning inspectorate decides on the framework for planning applications.

It will then be down to owner Mathew Singh to enter plans that meet the requirements for the site.