Art-lovers have handed in a petition to Swindon Borough Council to try and get the town’s museum and art gallery opened as soon as possible.

And they have urged members of the council’s Conservative cabinet not to make any hasty decisions at their meeting tonight where a paper will recommend moving the collections out of Apsley House.

The report says exhibits could be put on display as a temporarily arrangement at the civic offices in Euclid Street and Lydiard House.

It says: “The existing building in which the collections are housed will be vacated, but not until a temporary home has been evaluated and fully costed. Following any agreed permanent closure, Apsley House would be declared surplus to operational requirements.” 

The building could then be sold.

The paper recommends the cabinet authorise officers to arrange to move exhibits to the civic offices and Lydiard House “without delay” which would sound the death knell for Apsley House.

It would remain closed and as soon as the collection was removed would be earmarked for disposal. The £400,000 the council has set aside for repairs to the Grade II listed

Regency building dating from the 1830s will then be used to make suitable arrangements for display in Euclid Street and if needed, Lydiard House.

But members of Save Our Museum and Art Gallery said such a decision should not be made this week as they handed in their petition of over 4,000 signatures.

The group's founder Linda Kasmaty said: “The council is suggesting using the civic offices as an alternative to the art gallery. Yet the last time the council considered using the civic offices to house the paintings, it dismissed that idea because it would cost £1.8m.

“In all conscience, members of cabinet cannot take an informed decision on this, because they have not been given the information they need. We are urging members to do the intelligent and responsible thing, and tell their officers to go back to the drawing board.

“Swindon’s art and museum collections belong to Swindon people, not to the local authority. The least residents can expect is that the full council has an opportunity to see the results of professional surveys and costings, and make a decision based on the fact.”

Fellow members agreed.  

Tim Carroll said: “Only a very small selection of the collections will be able to be shown at the civic offices and Lydiard House. The  permanent home will be a new museum and gallery built as part of the cultural quarter but that might be a very long time away.

Another supporter Rosemary Savage said: “The collection is nationally important and it should be opened, not just for the people of Swindon, but across the country. 

"I know people come from London and Bristol and all sorts of places to see it.”

The council’s cabinet member for heritage and culture and leisure Robert Jandy said there would be no hasty decisions.

He said: “Any decision would have to be made in the public interest and also be made to support investment in the new proposed  facility. The decision must in no way undermine the future provision of a new facility as part of the Cultural Quarter.”

He said the previously dismissed suggestion to use the civic offices  was not relevant to this decision.

“The historic options appraisal  assessed options that would be good as a permanent home going forwards," he said. "It did not assess the reuse of existing rooms in the civic on a temporary basis. It assumed that major works would be undertaken internally to create galleries in the civic and that only part of the first floor would be used, with offices remaining alongside. 

“What is  now being proposed is that the first floor be converted into exhibition and education space without significant internal amendment, and this will provide a much larger footprint than Apsley House. This means that far less of the collection will be placed into storage. 

“All options are being considered and no decision has been made about any of these potential options. Further evidence is still being collated by officers.”

The cabinet meets this evening at 6pm at the civic offices.

The petition handed in is sufficient to spark a debate at the full council meeting on October  23.