THE MECHANICS’ Institute could soon be back in the hands of the people following an extraordinary intervention by the council.

David Potter, Swindon Council’s director of planning and transport, said yesterday that unless Mathew Singh, the current owner of the historic building in Emlyn Square, completes a series of urgent works the council would take it over.

It means Mr Singh will have to meet a series of stringent deadlines over the next three months to make improvements.

Mr Potter said the works that need to be undertaken would cost more than £1.5m and if they are not completed the council would place a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on the property.

At that point it is believed the authority would team up with undisclosed partners, and the Mechanics’ Trust, to turn the building back into a community centre.

According to Mr Potter, the urgent works include £275,000 to make the building watertight and at least £1m to repair crumbling brick and plaster to ensure the structure’s shell is brought back to an “acceptable standard”.

His comments come only two days after the Adver reported Mr Singh’s plans for the building, which include a 57-room hotel and restaurant.

In the article, the owner of Forefront Estates, said that the council was being “obstructive” towards his plans, and also said he had already ploughed £2m into the south side of the building.

However, in a sharp rebuke to the businessman, the council claimed that many of the building’s threatened areas, outlined in an independent report, have remained largely untouched.

Mr Potter said: “We first put an urgent works notice on the building in 2002 before Mr Singh purchased the building.

“We removed it when he began works almost immediately after taking it over.

“However, another one was put into place in late December 2009 because not enough has been done in the north part of the building where 95 per cent of problems with the building’s structure are.”

Mr Potter said he and his team would be taking an in-depth look at the building’s current state in a matter of days before telling Mr Singh exactly what needed to be done and when.

He added: “We will be putting into place a schedule of works and a reasonable timetable. If works are not done at any time, the council will ensure that they are done.

“If we are forced to do the work ourselves, we will then have to recover the cost.

“At that point, if he is unable to pay or sell the building the council can acquire it.

“I must stress that it would be a win-win to see a successful outcome from the latest urgent works notice.

“If Mr Singh works with us to find a common purpose it could avoid an onerous demand being put on the taxpayer.

“However, we are going through many ‘what if’ exercises with experts at the moment to complete a risk assessment in case that does not occur.”

Daniel Rose, chairman of the Mechanics’ Trust, said the group has already gained listed building consent, and has a business plan.

He said: “We want to develop a hub for the community and English Heritage is a very important part of this plan.

“We need to grab hold of this opportunity.”

Mr Singh said he has offered the council an opportunity to buy the building a number of times.

“Why would the council waste more taxpayers’ money by placing a CPO on the building?

“I have offered them the building at market value on a number of occasions. But the council said it had no money. I remain open to negotiations.

“It is becoming a bit of a headache for me, but I would be surprised if it costs as much as Mr Potter says it will to repair the building.

“He is not a quantity surveyor he is a planner, it won’t be that much. I think we have been very good to the building we have done a lot of work.”