THE owner of the Mechanics’ Institute has broken his silence over the future of the Swindon landmark and shown the Adver the work going on inside.

Mathew Singh, who bought the building almost exactly seven years ago, has attacked Swindon Council for issuing an order forcing him to undertake vital repair works.

He said that far from stalling on doing work he has been busy refitting the south side of the building, with the top floor due to be completed as a penthouse apartment within the next month. Eight other apartments are planned for the south side.

And he has rubbished the council’s warnings that the building is unsafe and claims it is the authority itself that is hampering his progress with the restoration.

The leader of the council, Coun Rod Bluh, and the cabinet member for regeneration, Coun Phil Young, have both said they are happy to work with Mr Singh to find the best solution for one of Swindon’s most famous buildings.

“People are saying to me – why aren’t you doing anything with the Mechanics’,” said Mr Singh.

“The way the council is talking it’s like I’ve abandoned it completely. People would be amazed if they could see what is actually going on inside.”

Last month Swindon Council issued Mr Singh with an urgent works notice, an order to do certain repairs to make the building weather proof, after finding it posed a potential public risk. The council put aside £250,000 for the work but Mr Singh, who claims to have spent around £2 million on the Mechanics’ already, said he has not seen a penny.

“I’d welcome it if they wanted to give me £250,000 but I’ve heard nothing about it,” he said.

“All this business with the urgent works notice is crazy.

“If it was so urgent why did they start talking about this in the middle of last year but then it took them till December to issue it?

“The notice is based on a report that is eight years old. A lot of the stuff they’re saying I need to do has already been done.”

Mr Singh said his relationship with both Swindon Council and English Heritage has deteriorated over the last year.

He said: “I used to get a meeting in a couple of days, now it takes six weeks to organise anything. I don’t know what has happened.

“I have bent over backwards to get this building into good shape.

“They say that is what they are interested in too, so why don’t they help me?”

Plans to redevelop the ground floor of the south side are stalled, according to Mr Singh, because the council is refusing to allow him to go ahead with the work despite earlier giving permission.

He said: “The council are being obstructive. If they would give me the go-ahead I could have the south side finished by the summer. Rod Bluh has said he wants to cut the ribbon but why should I let him when he has been making it so difficult for me?”

A PLANNING application to transform the north side of the Mechanics’ Institute into a 57-room hotel will be submitted next month.

A 10-storey tower will form the centrepiece of the £10m development, which would be bridged to the south side by a restaurant in the old library.

Owner Mathew Singh said: “We have gone through at least 11 different options for the north side so we have been very thorough. I’m very pleased with the designs we’ve got and I feel confident going forward with them.

“There have been so many different suggestions for the north side. I even suggested to Rod Bluh (council leader) that he put all the workers moving out of Premier House into the Mechanics but nothing happened on that.”

The old reading room in the centre of the building, which formally housed lectures and a lending library for the GWR workers, is earmarked for a restaurant under Mr Singh’s proposals.

He said: “We are looking for an operator now who would be able to take it on. We’ve done work to tidy it up but there’s still a lot of work to be done there. It’s such a great space that we want to make sure we get it right.”

SWINDON Council’s leader has hit back at claims by Mathew Singh that the authority has been an “obstruction” in restoring the Mechanics’ Institute.

Coun Rod Bluh said: “The issue of the Mechanics’ Institute has been very high profile as long as I have been leader and there have been a lot of meetings between Mathew Singh and council officers, as well as the New Swindon Company.

“More recently there have been issues with the urgent works notice, which the council has a statutory responsibility to deal with.

“We will continue to engage with Mathew Singh for the mutual goal of restoring the Mechanics’ Institute.”

Coun Phil Young, lead member for regeneration, said Mr Singh’s comments about the council using out-dated information as a basis for the urgent works notice were unfounded.

He said: “As Mathew well knows there was a report by Fielden, Clegg, Bradley in 2002 but that there was also an update in 2009 that was used as a basis for the urgent works notice.

“I don’t believe we have been obstructive. It’s not in our interest to be obstructive because what we want is the best for Swindon.

“We want the Mechanics’ Institute to be restored and I hope we can do that with Mathew Singh.

“I’m not aware of officers refusing to meet Mathew or that there have been particular problems with meetings but if he gives me more information about that I would be happy to look into it.”