Exciting new visitor attractions, slick new office spaces and initiatives to attract new traders were just some of the things discussed in the Swansea Regeneration Update at the Swansea Conference. Read on for some exciting announcements.
This year’s Swansea Conference opened on March 29 with a Regeneration Update, giving a detailed and far-reaching overview of what’s been going on in the city, and what lies ahead.
Swansea council leader Rob Stewart outlined the council’s strategy to get more people living, working, learning and enjoying themselves in Swansea.
On the development of 71-72 Kingsway he said: “We’ve already let around 30 percent of that building to tenants. It will open early next year and is part of that wider regeneration of the city centre. It will be an innovation hub with around 600 people working there. And of course, those people will take time each day to shop and spend some money to support our other businesses and city centre.”
On the redevelopment of the old Woolworths site he said: “We will redevelop the old Woolworths store into a biophilic living building using technologies being developed at Swansea University.”
He added that work is underway to transform the former BHS building into a new local services hub that will be home to archives and a new library. The building will be called Y Storfa.
“It will also contain a host of local cultural services so that people in Swansea can come and get all of the services in one place right in the heart of the city centre,” he said.
Discussing Castle Square, he said: “We intend to increase the green space within Castle Square, bringing in play fountains, create new commercial units, put a new screen in there and create a new public space. It will be a really modern, welcoming part of our city centre, reminiscent of the old Castle Gardens. For those of you who remember the old castle gardens, they weren’t without their problems. What we’re trying to do is make sure this space is one that people enjoy safely and will become a beautiful addition to the city centre.”
He went on to outline the second phase of the Copr Bay project, which will transform the area across the road from Swansea Arena.
“We are talking to our colleagues in Welsh Government at the moment about finalising the arrangements for a new four star conference hotel,” he said. “We’re finishing the second car park, and that will allow us to begin the demolition of the existing St. Davids car park and to begin to work on the next phase of creating more office space and more retail space in our city centre.”
On the subject of the former Debenhams store in Swansea Quadrant Shopping Centre, he said: “There will be a two stage process- one of acquisition of the site and then to bring in high quality retailers to fill that site.”
He also outlined a proposal for a new public sector hub in the city, coupled with opportunities for private sector and learning establishments to come into the city.
“We’re in discussions with our Welsh Government and UK Government colleagues about them also being part of those arrangements because, if we’re to have a functioning city centre, we do need to have high quality jobs based in our city centre with that economic advantage that it gives us in terms of supporting all of our other businesses in the city centre,” he said.
He went on to discuss the council’s investment in the city’s heritage, including buying the Palace Theatre and securing a deal for a company to acquire the Albert Hall.
“Both of those sites are well on their way to restoration at the moment,” he said. “Palace Theatre will complete next year, and will be home to Tramshed Tech, which will house 300 People working in the tech industry. The Albert Hall will become another venue in the city capable of housing events of up to 800 capacity.
“If we’re serious about being a conference city, Swansea Arena coupled with the Brangwyn, the Albert Hall and other venues like the Swansea.com stadium, will give us a really good claim to bring in more of the conference circuit and have more events like this in our city.”
Moving to give an overview of the redevelopment of the River Tawe, he highlighted the council’s successful £29m Levelling Up bid which will support the restoration of the rest of the buildings around the copper works.
“These will see the engine house and others fully restored and brought back into use with different activities taking place in a new river walkway established so that you can actually get all the way down to Sainsbury’s on the west side of the river, and then restoration of the old Strand tunnels that have been bricked up for many decades,” he said. “These will be opened up as you would see in places like Kings Cross and opportunities for local retailers to go in there to really make use of that area and bring it back to life.”
Penderyn Whiskey’s new base by the River Tawe is also set to boost the area. “It won’t just be a visitor attraction, it will now also be an operational distillery, producing over a million bottles of fine Welsh whiskey every year,” he said.
On the subject of tourist attractions, he outlined the proposed development of Kilvey Hill with cable car rides and a luge. He emphasised that locals will still be able to use the hill for activities such as walks and bike trails.
The new Skyline cable car attraction is hoped to be opened by 2025. Looking more widely at the tourist attractions coming to Swansea, he said that Swansea Arena is projected to bring in 350,000 visitors a year, Skyline to bring in 750,000 and the new aquarium to bring in 200,000 visitors – adding up to at least 1.3m extra visitors a year.
New ferry services to South West England are also being discussed – and to help people get around the local area, six new railway stations are planned on the Swansea Metro. The Council is in discussions with the Welsh Government about trialling a fleet of around 20 hydrogen vehicles as part of that network.
Stuart Harris from regeneration specialist Milligan, which is working on the St Davids redevelopment in Swansea, praised the council for its ability to make things happen.
“We see a lot of councils across the UK, talking about regeneration projects, but a lot of it is talk, a lot of it is pictures. We’re actually seeing action in Swansea,” he said.
He said that a key strand joining many new city centre projects together is the Ffordd I’r Mor route – the route to the sea, which will be a vehicle free route from Oxford Street all the way to the beach front.
Discussing several new buildings planned for the St Davids area of the city, he said that Millican is already receiving enquiries from companies that want to relocate to the area.
He also highlighted plans to build a new public sector hub, which it’s hoped will be the first fully timber building in Wales.
In addition to this, he highlighted ambitions to create a makers’ hub in the St David’s centre, including modular studios and a makers’ emporium.
“One of my colleagues has been touring the Welsh makers community, and without exception, everybody’s been extremely positive and excited about the potential that this could deliver in Swansea,” he said. “What we’re looking at is something that becomes a regional draw for Swansea, and complements some of the offers that we’ve got already.”
Debbie Green, CEO of Coastal Housing, gave an overview of Coastal’s footprint in Swansea, which includes about 700 units within the within the city centre. As well as residential, Coastal has a growing portion of commercial stock.
“We try to create attractive communities for people to live in and complement the regeneration plans for the city centre so that people also get better opportunities,” she said. “One of the advantages that we have as a social housing provider is we can borrow funding more cheaply from the private markets than some other providers and it means it’s easier for us to develop in some of these longer term commercial investments where the return takes 20-40 years.
“We are not only looking at how we acquire buildings to be able to develop at scale, but also how we create more active travel between the Strand and the riverside, enabling that student populations to walk east to west from the river up to up to the Kingsway, and onto the High Street,” she added.
Coastal has been very active in the city centre, particularly the High Street, and Green emphasised how much the city has changed in the last decade.
“From about 10 years ago, when we first moved there, and there was very little footfall and the footfall that was there was probably a bit undesirable,” she said. “Now there are cafes and shops, and you get a sense of a lot more vibrancy returning to city centre.”
Coastal’s future plans include work on the Kingsway, where it will repair and redevelop Ty Gwalia, and more greening of the city – as with the Urban Village rooftop garden.
Ian Morgan, director of Kartay Holdings, discussed his company’s work to transform the city centre.
“We went to grab some key buildings in the city centre, and ended up buying nine in four years,” he said. “The plan is a long-term repurposing of buildings which have become tired and old. There’s nothing more frustrating than walking in a city centre and looking up to see those empty buildings when we’ve got a massive housing shortage.”
Planned works include recladding of Princess House, the redevelopment of the empty 1950s building at 18 & 20 Princess Way into the Princess Quarter, offering three storeys of high quality office accommodation, a vibrant green rooftop terrace and three glass rooftop meeting rooms with panoramic views over the city.
The building that houses MacDonalds – 1 Oxford St – will be redeveloped to create 34 high quality privately rented apartments.
“These will attract and bring professionals to live and work in the city,” he said.
The former H Samuel store at 254-260 Oxford St will be redeveloped with the aim of bringing good retailers into the city.
“We’ve got to get people who want to come to spend in Swansea, so we need destination shops,” he said. “We’re going to try and track national tenants that can serve as a key driver for us, and repurpose the upper floors. We’re going to be providing 33 apartments to bring tenants to the city centre.
“Hopefully Swansea has got a massive future and we’re really excited to be to be part of it,” he added.
Professor Elwen Evans of Swansea University echoed these sentiments, highlighting the £132 million Swansea Bay City Deal Campuses Project, led by Swansea University in partnership with Swansea Council, Swansea Bay University Health Board, and Hywel Dda University Health Board. It will develop sites in Morriston and Singleton to promote innovation and business growth in the expanding Medical Technology and Sports Technology sectors.
“It’s a fantastic project, focusing on Meditech, on sports tech, and it will undoubtedly be a successful draw of talent and investment into the region,” she said. “All of the City Deal projects have got some elements of engagement from Swansea’s universities within them.
“When we look at university’s engagement in the community we serve, one of the key things we consider is people, because whatever we’re doing – it can be a big, glossy, fabulous building – actually, it’s all about people. It’s all about convening. It’s all about bringing people together.”