SURVEYORS will spend the next fortnight checking the historic Mechanics Institute for hazardous materials.

Swindon Borough Council said the surveys, which began this week, were good news – but played down suggestions that people would be able to see visible changes to the Victorian landmark any time soon.

The initial surveys of the Grade II* listed building, which has been derelict for more than three decades, should pave the way for more detailed work to examine the structural condition of the building and estimate how much it will cost to restore.

Coun Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council cabinet member for heritage, said people should not be alarmed if they see people in white paper hazmat suits around the building.

He added: “This survey will provide a definitive view of the condition of the building and what steps are needed to allow people on site to perform repairs and restoration tasks.

“We will work with our partners every step of the way, but undertaking this process properly will take time.

“From the start, I, the council, Historic England and the Mechanics’ Institution Trust said that it would take five years to see visible progress, and we are determined to be successful in seeing a restored Mechanics Institute that has a sustainable future.”

The Mechanics' Institute was built in the 1850s for GWR workers and their families. It boasted a theatre and a library.

In the mid 1980s, Swindon Council agreed to buy the Grade-II* listed building in Emlyn Square from British Rail for £1, also receiving £50,000 in a deferred maintenance payment. However, the council withdrew from the agreement at the 11th hour.

In 2003, the building was bought by Forefront Estates Ltd, with owner Matthew Singh unsuccessful in his attempts to turn it into a hotel.

Records for Forefront Estates, which was a dormant company for a number of years until it was revived in 2018, show an assets list of £1.4m – essentially what the company thinks the Mechanics’ Institute and the land it is on is worth.

The worsening condition of the building has long been an issue concern for heritage campaigners and council officers.

In April, the borough council’s ruling Cabinet gave its unanimous backing to proposals for council officers to prepare a compulsory purchase order.