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  • Lawrence Bailey

Changing the skyline from the ground up

It’s been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any less fit for purpose if you’re crossing a desert.

You may have read in the South Wales Evening Post and Wales Online how Swansea Council has just signed up a new development partner for a 20-year deal.

The long-term collaborative arrangement with the, as yet, unnamed firm will transform parts of the city through redevelopment projects covering seven major strategic sites.

The news comes on the heels of another completion stage in the £135 million Copr Bay project.

I’m sure that Economy minister Vaughn Gething picked up on the investment buzz when he recently visited the site. He will also have been briefed on this ambitious package of regeneration ventures.

His officials will have told him how there’s been a discernible emphasis on putting time and effort into literally preparing the ground before setting out to secure market interest.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the council leader has a background in project management plus some clear views on delivery-focused development.

It all makes a welcome change, if only because Swansea hasn’t had a great record of joint-working with the private sector in the past.

A series of stop-go commercial relationships often saw partners morph into punchbags overnight, leaving the city with a reputation among developers as being “hard work”.

The Shaping Swansea initiative has been a conscious move to dispel that negativity. Given the number of enquiries involved and the eventual outcome, I’d say that it’s working.

Of course, the key benefit of development partnerships is that expectations are managed from the outset and planning decisions don’t become an expensive roll of the dice.

That’s probably just as well as none of the sites involved are a straightforward proposition. Each has its own design challenges and other constraints. In some instances, the only way to generate the required viability will be to build higher.

A twenty year project life may sound overlong but it’s essentially like a football manager’s contract; it’s solid for as long as the results keep coming and no-one gets a better offer.

That said, the confidence that comes with Swansea’s climb up UK economic activity tables can only be further boosted by news of long-term investment patterns. That’s because continuity strategies are much more likely to influence procurement and supply chain decisions that benefit the region. Similarly, employers become more prepared to put resources into specialist skills training for local workers rather than buy in expertise from elsewhere.

The over-arching aim that’s been shared at various presentations is to make private investment in Swansea habit-forming. It’s not just about shrugging off a “difficult” tag but actively promoting a collaborative culture that delivers.

However, that same proactive approach has to extend to SMEs involved in more modest ventures. Without them, the local economic drivers that also help boost employment and opportunity can’t be realised.

Geography isn’t on our side in this part of the world. We have to work smarter than the next guy and play to every advantage we have.

If we want to get used to seeing cranes on Swansea’s skyline then we’re going to need partnerships in a wide range of shapes and sizes.

Now, where did I leave that camel?


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