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Swansea beckons private developers

SA1 waterfront development for University of Wales Trinity St David by Stride Treglown

Swansea is yet another UK city to take up the challenge of constructing an NHS Nightingale hospital in the battle against the coronavirus, using Kier to build an 850-bed facility in a disused former factory and film studio. This comes in the midst of a new launch by Swansea City Council to attract private developers to invest in the city.

Before the lockdown, city councillors were asking for private developers to step forward to back the future development of homes, offices and leisure facilities to put Swansea 'on the map' as a 24-hour, 21st century city aimed at attracting more visitors to celebrate its' culture as well as encouraging the growth of tech companies.

The virus outbreak now means that plans have been interrupted, but originally it was hoped that a private developer could have been selected by December.

Seven sites from Hafod to the Civic Centre have been identified by the council as ripe for development and the launch of the billion pound project was set to move on to an investor conference in France before the lockdown measures came into force.

The Civic Centre under the future plans, is set to become a residential-led, mixed-use development, while St Thomas railway station has been identified for a new housing scheme as has the Swansea Marina, with the Hafod Copperworks being turned into a leisure destination complete with a new Penderyn whisky distillery and gondola ride on Kilvey Hill.

The council hopes to attract investment, pointing to a good track record of recent delivery. The architecture and planning firm, Stride Treglown has been short-listed for the 2020 RICS Social Impact Awards for its regeneration work for Swansea's SA1 dockside and harbour front scheme.

Pierre Wassenaar, who has been leading the project from Stride Treglown's Cardiff office with input from Bristol colleagues, spoke to Future Cities Forum this week:

'It's been successful for us and we hope for the university client as well - who has been super-positive. The master plan for a university city-based quarter is very long term.The construction of the IQ Building - which houses architecture, engineering and computing - has completed as has the library building, and these are both part of the first phase.'

Sixty million pounds has been invested in phase 1 of the mixed-use quarter and this has enabled the University of Wales Trinity Saint David development on the SA1 waterfront to take off. The core aim has been to bring business and the students from the university together to share ideas and create links to the university's academic programme. The Construction Wales Innovation Centre also has associated public realm works, including native trees, and are completed parts of the first phase.

Andrew Harrison, Director of 'Spaces That Work' who has been working on the project, spoke at our March forum in 2017. At the time he said that 20,000 square meters would be used to create creative industries and sports hubs while retail and places to eat could attract shoppers and visitors. Swansea Council wanted to use the development to produce a digital district on Kingsway and a digital square at the St David's development.

Pierre Wassenaar explained how the unity of design has been important to the SA1 development:

'From a design code point of view the project has been exemplary. We have been working with the Prince's Foundation and they had a strong vision for a dockside aesthetic based around certain materials and a volumetric design that they took from the industrial heritage. We came up with a palette of bricks, fenestration and so on. There are a lot of references to the J Shed which is a listed warehouse building in Swansea and we have added modern industrial features.

'In 2006 and 2007 there was a master-plan for the docks, and the council was acutely switched onto the regeneration of the waterfront alongside the university as developer. There are similarities with what we did in Portishead, Bristol by the water. The big take out is how you interpret a social value-led brief. It's not just about the bricks and mortar but it is very much about the social programme behind it.

'Professor Medwin Hughes, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Wales Trinity St David, had a convincing vision based around the well-being of future generations, which was about the outreach into industry and linking the student world into the wider community. He did not want an elitist ring fenced campus, but rather an embedded piece of university in a new district of city, which would be porous, open and mixed-use. In terms of the thinking, this had a big impact on our Bristol-based Places team, who look at the active stewardship of places.'

Pierre also suggested that off-site construction is not necessarily useful in projects such as SA1 in Swansea.

'People are finding - in using offsite construction - that one size does not fit all. It's about understanding the limitations of your factory assembled component elements. By that I mean that certain types of residential and student accommodation lend themselves to the Lego-set approach so you only need a handful of workers on site to assemble. It applies to healthcare up to a point, as well. But on science and higher education projects things are much more bespoke so the cost and complexity of scaling up of components changes.'

Future Cities Forum will be following up on Swansea's future regeneration story after the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

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