Work on the multi-million pound project will get underway next week!
A groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Monday after the council’s cabinet committed £110 million to the Phase One scheme.
The main contractor will be on site very shortly to begin on a project which will also deliver a coastal park, a car park and – across the other side of Oystermouth Road – 36 flats, 15 retail units and a multi-storey car park.
Council leader Rob Stewart said: “We are really at a point now that if we don’t do something significant then Swansea’s future looks extremely uncertain.”
Labour cabinet members praised the concept and detail of the project, known as Swansea Central phase one.
“The full (cabinet) papers provide a very strong case to proceed,” said Cllr Jennifer Raynor, cabinet member for education improvement, learning and skills.
Delivering Swansea Central phase will cost £134.8 million, and cabinet has previously earmarked the rest of the funding required.
The council will claw back just under £23 million from the city deal for the region, and nearly £5 million from the sale of the flats. Further grants could also reduce the council’s contribution.
While the sums involved seemed large, said Cllr Raynor, they were less than the council’s current school rebuilding programme and also provided ways of generating income.
Cllr David Hopkins said: “In 28 years of being a councillor I have never been so excited about a project as this.
“If we don’t go ahead with this project, we will never grow, we will never be a regional centre.”
Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr Chris Holley, welcomed several aspects of Swansea Central phase one while delivering the findings of a scrutiny group.
He said answers given at a scrutiny meeting by council leader Rob Stewart and senior officers about the scheme earlier this week “were quite reassuring”.
“The scrutiny board were quite pleased that the development will be going ahead,” said Cllr Holley.
“But we do have reservations about the funding and what the long-term consequences of this are going to be.”
The Labour administration has set aside money to cover the first six years of repayment costs, but beyond that, £7 million per year will be required for around 40 years to finance Swansea Central phase one.
The current estimate is that car parking income, rent from the retail units and the arena will bring in £1.7 million per year but this could rise and, according to Cllr Stewart, end up offsetting most or even all of the £7 million needed.
But maintenance costs of just under £1 million per year will also need to be factored in.
Cllr Stewart was at pains to stress that £120 million of existing borrowing has been paid back since 2012, and that money for Swansea Central phase one had actually been borrowed from the Public Works Loan Boards last year – prior to the Treasury raising interest rates.
The Labour leader said the steps taken to cover borrowing costs for the first six years would mean no impact on core services or council tax.
Asked by Cllr Jeff Jones, of the Lib-Dems, if the pot set aside could have been used on day-to-day services like social services and education, Cllr Stewart said it could.
He said the pot was set up for a “specific purpose”, and added: “The council has taken decisions to invest heavily in services, despite austerity, and we will continue to do so.”
Swansea Central phase one is estimated to deliver a £17 million annual boost to the city’s economy, provide construction work for local firms, create 600 long-term jobs, pave the way for a second round of city centre development – called Swansea Central phase two – and encourage further private sector investment.
Contractor Buckingham Group is expected to be on site early next week.
Citing other schemes underway in Swansea, Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said he felt the city was now on a roll.
“I am really pleased we are making this commitment,” he said. “It has been said that it is a lot of money (to borrow).
“Well, yes it is – I wish it could have been more.”
Cllr Stewart added: “I’ve heard nobody propose an alternative plan. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say, ‘Don’t do it’.
“In fact they are saying, ‘Get on with it’.”