Regeneration Specialist Compares Swansea Transformation to “Victorian” Proportions

Posted on: November 15th, 2019
Posted by: John Clark
Categories: Wales

Swansea is embracing the changing nature of Britain’s high streets, a leading Councillor has said.

Cllr Rob Stewart, Cabinet Member for Economy and Strategy, told delegates at our High Streets Development Conference that the scale of changes occurring across Swansea was transformational: “About 70% of our city centre is under redevelopment, regeneration or being refurbished at this time.”

The council is utilising funding from the £1.3bn City Deal to fund the Swansea Central redevelopment scheme and Stewart detailed the masterplan: “Phase 1 sees the creation of a 3,500 capacity digital arena, as well as some new multi-storey car parks and a new crossing across the road to get you to the beautiful Swansea Bay without having to navigate traffic.”

The planned arena will be the keystone of the new project, Stewart said: “The arena is not an ordinary building, we’ve gone very high-end on it. It’s cladded in nearly 100,000 LED lights and it’s a new landmark for the city.”

Around £500m is being invested directly into Swansea high street, which Stewart described as being “some private, but mainly public.”

The new coastal park will connect the city to the sea to encourage tourists back to the city, which involves a £7m connecting structure.

Environmental concerns are also being incorporated into the development, following Swansea declaring a 2030 carbon-neutral target. A core part of the way the council is seeking to achieve this is the Tidal Lagoon proposal, a £1bn project to bring this world-first method of tidal power generation to life.

The project could power 155,000 homes and replace gas-fired stations given its predictable output.

Stewart said of the proposal: “It’s now been picked up by the Welsh Government and we now have a second Swansea Tidal Lagoon proposal which includes a dragon energy island, floating housing, floating solar, which makes use of the tidal range in Swansea Bay which is the second biggest in the world.”

There is also a plan for Phase 2 of Swansea Central, which will be launching in early 2020. This includes the Kingsway Innovation District, which also draws funding from the City Deal with a total of £150m public and private funding.

Phase 2 is planned to embrace the city’s climate obligations, Stewart told delegates: “It’s about regreening and creating a green lung through the town centre. It is also going to be home the UK’s first fully biophilic building, created in conjunction with Swansea University.”

The palace theatre is being taken back into public ownership and is receiving £4.9m of funding from the Welsh European Funding Office. The council is planning to turn it into a mixed-use space.

The South-West Wales Metro is another major scheme proposed by the council, which will combine bus and rail-travel to allow increased connectivity throughout the region.

Other major projects include the £50m Mariner Street Development and £40m Oldway Centre redevelopment, bringing over a 1,000 new rooms of student accommodation. The £50m coastal Phase 3, which will bring new office, community and retail space on Orchard Street and King’s Lane, is tipped for an early 2020 start.

There is also the planned upgrade of Swansea station, and the £10m Orchard House redevelopment, which will provide 52 affordable homes by the end of 2020.

Mark Williams the Executive Director and Co-Founder of RivingtonHark, a major regeneration firm with £700m projects under management, said of the transformation high streets are undergoing: “The scale of change is probably going back to the Victorian period when we spoke about regenerating our cities.”

Williams brought attention to the Portas Review, a 2011 study undertaken by retail expert Mary Portas with a number of other exports into resolving the issues facing the high street. The review concluded with 20 unanimous suggestions, Williams said: “The key recommendations I want to focus on, is that retail is not the solution, the UK has too much retail floor space, we estimated 25-30%, the reality is probably 50%.”

The importance of public-private cooperation was highlighted by Williams who said that the change “can’t be delivered by the private sector, that’s why we made the recommendation that local authorities need to intervene.” This theme was echoed by Stewart who said: “We’re lucky enough to have RivingtonHark and a number of other partners helping us.”

Williams argued this made a sea change from the more combative relationship the sectors previously had on these matters: “The days of the 1990s of companies coming in saying I’m going to build a shopping centre and take you to judicial appeal over this are gone, you have to work with local authorities.”

The scale of change that needs to occur in our towns and cities to adapt to a shifting high street are clearly staggering. However, these challenges become far less insurmountable when all involved parties cooperate to resolve them.

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