THE New Mechanics' Institution Preservation Trust is searching for money to make a bid to buy the iconic building in Emlyn Square.

Chairwoman Martha Parry says the trust already has listed building consent for a community and arts centre in the building.

She said the trust would start applying for grants to make an offer to buy it from owner Mathew Singh and end plans to turn it in to a hotel and conference centre.

Mrs Parry said the community wanted the building to return to its original use a place of education and entertainment for residents.

Mr Singh has revealed a second lot of plans to build an eight-storey, 104-room hotel in the middle of the heritage-listed building.

He has submitted plans to the council to demolish the fly-tower constructed in the middle of the building in the 1930s and replace it with a modern brick and glass hotel.

Mr Singh already has permission to convert the southern end of the Mechanics' Institute into apartments.

He said the latest plans would retain the theatre in the northern section and return the other rooms to their former glory.

Mrs Parry said the trust wanted to open negotiations with Mr Singh.

"It is the lack of ownership that keeps us from moving to realise our vision for Swindon," Mrs Parry said.

"Now that we see that Mr Singh has stuck to the only possible commercial use a hotel we will now quickly move to apply for funding from lottery and other sources, which would support our approach to Mr Singh, asking him to sell us the building.

"We are saying that if he really cares about the building, beyond as an investment, and cares about the Swindon community, then the best thing he could do now while his plans are being chewed over by council planners and heritage advisers is to enter in to negotiations to agree a price at which he would be willing to part with the title.

"With an agreement of purchase and sale, we could then fundraise the purchase price as part of the overall restoration package."

The plans have not yet been put on public display as Swindon Council's planning department has asked for further details to be supplied.

Mr Singh said he had submitted development plans to the council and was in talks with English Heritage.

"The application's already in and we're talking to English Heritage," he said.

"We've spoken a couple of times. They are coming to visit the site. It's moving it a step forward."

Mr Singh said he was elated the majority of readers responding to a Swindon Advertiser poll last week supported the plan for the Mechanics Institute.