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Swansea’s hidden success story

June 20, 2017

 

It’s twenty years since the earth diggers first appeared at what we now call Swansea’s SA1 Waterfront.

 

At the time, it was viewed as little more than a token attempt at emulating the kind of docklands makeovers seen in London, Liverpool and even Cardiff. Yet, as we’ve seen football, people underestimate the city’s reputation for doing things its own way.

 

The project dated back to before devolution but it was the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Development Agency that finalised the deal whereby the port’s owners handed over a sizeable chunk of dormant quayside.

 

Then came the Techniums. Although it’s now fashionable to dismiss this business incubator model, it’s worth noting their initial economic impact. Indeed, you have to ask what might have happened if the WDA, who sponsored them, hadn’t been so abruptly disbanded.

 

Whatever your opinion of the agency, you have to accept that the locality’s business fortunes were fostered by some shrewd property management. It was they who set the pattern of mixed commercial and residential development that we see today.

 

“If you build it, they will come”, goes the saying, and eventually they did. Admiral, the Village, J Shed, Ethos and many others have all been part of an incremental growth.

 

The new district, for that it what is has become, not only has a distinctive identity but also its own voice in the form of the SA1 Waterfront Business Club.

 

Now it is the turn of University of Wales Trinity St David (UWTSD) to imaginatively fill in the remaining blanks of the masterplan with its new innovation campus.

 

The scale and ambition of this massive HE project is awesome. More importantly though, it is a natural progression in the cycle that has seen injections of public sector investment accompanied by new commercial interest.

 

There are those in local officialdom who once feared SA1 would harm rather than supplement the city’s economic fortunes. I suspect some of them still do.

 

I am no urbanist, as many out there will confirm, but I don’t see a successful blend of lifestyles & business within thriving day and night-time economies as a threat.

 

Just don’t’ mention the car parking.

 

 

Rush to judgement not needed

 

It sadly the way of things that any step forward in public safety is preceded by some horrific tragedy. I’ve no doubt that the Grenfell Tower fire will be one such instance.
 

 

I know it’s easy for the likes of me to say, but rushing to judgement never helps. Incidents of this kind often involve multiple factors and it would be wrong to speculate or apportion blame right now.

That said, I recall a time when every local authority up and down the country had something called Public Protection committees. This meant that groups of councillors had an understanding of building regulations and relevant codes. Much of that expertise was lost with the introduction of cabinet-run local authorities.


A public inquiry into what happened is the right move. I hope however that it also looks at whether operating local services at ‘arms-length’ can ever properly serve both the public interest and the public purse.

 

 

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