We propose a lower bound on the log marginal likelihood of Gaussian process regression models that can be computed without matrix factorisation of the full kernel matrix. We show that approximate maximum likelihood learning of model parameters by maximising our lower bound retains many benefits of the sparse variational approach while reducing the bias introduced into hyperparameter learning. The basis of our bound is a more careful analysis of the log-determinant term appearing in the log marginal likelihood, as well as using the method of conjugate gradients to derive tight lower bounds on the term involving a quadratic form. Our approach is a step forward in unifying methods relying on lower bound maximisation (e.g. variational methods) and iterative approaches based on conjugate gradients for training Gaussian processes. In experiments, we show improved predictive performance with our model for a comparable amount of training time compared to other conjugate gradient based approaches.