PLANS to regenerate Swansea have helped keep anchor stores like Marks and Spencer in the city and could prevent large employers moving away, senior figures have said.
Council leader Rob Stewart said it was “highly likely” that retailers including Primark and Marks and Spencer may have been lost were it not for council-led plans to build a new indoor arena, offices, commercial buildings and flats in the city centre.
These £130 million plans will be partly financed via the £1.3 billion city deal for the Swansea Bay City Region, and mainly by the council.
Addressing a city region joint committee, Cllr Stewart said: “I am convinced that because we have got these plans we have given them (large retailers) confidence to continue to invest.”
Huw Mowbray, the council’s property development manager, said the authority had “bit the bullet” rather than do nothing and watch the city’s economic fortunes continue to suffer.
The office-building strategy is to encourage new and established businesses to move to or stay in Swansea.
Office development at the old Oceana site on The Kingsway would cater for high-tech firms, while a big office hub at the current St David’s site north of Oystermouth Road is aimed at the public sector. These are separate to the £130 million first phase of investment.
Mr Mowbray said he was aware of three companies in Swansea with 100 to 150 staff which were “on a tipping point” because of the shortage of good quality office space.
Cllr Stewart said city deals were designed for areas like Swansea where there was this “market failure”, and that encouraging people to work and live in the city centre would drive demand for new retail, food and leisure businesses.
Cllr Stewart said he was proud of the investment pledged for Swansea.
“The other option (doing nothing) is a horrible one,” he said.
The Labour leader added that with risks came rewards, in the form of new revenue from the new buildings and car parks.
“It is a sound economic plan,” he said.
Cllr Jamie Adams asked if the new offices and retail developments might end up “sucking the lifeblood” from other areas of Swansea and beyond “to prop up the city centre”.
Mr Mowbray said there was no guarantee of some potential office displacement, but he said the council would choose who the new tenants were.
“It’s hopefully going to be new businesses,” he said.
A new hotel is also planned near the 3,500-capacity arena. The two buildings would be separated by what has been termed a digital square.
Mr Mowbray said a decision on who would build and then occupy the hotel could be made by Christmas, with more hotels possibly in the offing after that.
“It’s looking very positive,” he said.