WALK around Swansea city centre and it’s evident that tools haven’t been downed at council-led construction projects this financial year.
Finance chiefs expect to spend nearly £4 million a week on the indoor arena, upgrades to The Kingsway, new schools, road resurfacing and the numerous other schemes which come under the council’s capital budget in 2020-21.
By any stretch, a £204.4 million expenditure on capital schemes in 12 months is considerable, and it doesn’t include new council houses.
But building an indoor arena and a field hospital aren’t things you do every year.
Here are some of the big projects which are rising from the ground:
– Copr Bay phase one: encompassing the indoor arena, adjacent coastal park, new Oystermouth Road bridge, commercial units, flats and multi-storey car park. Just over £74.5 million of the £134.8 million cost will come from this year’s capital budget.
– New schools: these include the construction of a new YGG Tan-y-Lan, Clase, YGG Tirdeunaw, Penlan, a new pupil referral unit in Cockett, plus major upgrades at Bishopston comprehensive, Bishopston, and YG Gwyr, Gowerton.
Expenditure of £24.3 million is forecast on school schemes this year, but the Welsh Government will contribute 65% costs – 75% in the case of the pupil referral unit.
– Bay Field Hospital: the 1,000-bed surge hospital off Fabian Way was created from scratch during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. The £20.9 million cost is being covered though by Swansea Bay University Health Board.
– The Kingsway: a project which seems to have gone on forever has delivered new pavements, trees, and a return to two-way traffic. Bill this year in the order of £3.4 million.
– Road and pavement resurfacing and lighting: nuts and bolts work for any council to try to keep roads and pavements in fair condition. Expenditure expected to be £7.1 million.
– Active Travel schemes: new cycle and shared-use paths in Swansea have a £4.4 million budget this year.
– Hafod Morfa Copperworks: council scheme to breathe new life into the old powerhouse and outbuildings. The former copperworks area will be home to a Penderyn whisky distillery. The budget this year is £2.2 million.
– Palace Theatre redevelopment: it’s early days for this project to restore the grade two-listed structure and create new office space, but just under £700,000 is earmarked for it this year.
– Wind Street revamp another project in its infancy despite years of planning, Swansea’s party street is to become more of a day-time as well as an evening venue, with outdoor seating and a more welcoming environment. Most of the £2.8 million cost will be in 2021-22, but £500,000 is being invested into it this financial year.
– Swansea Vale car park: like Wind Street and the Palace Theatre, the bulk of this £3.1 million project is earmarked for next year. Spending in 2020-21 expected to be £500,000.
Like all authorities, Swansea Council funds capital schemes in different ways.
It can sell land and buildings it deems as surplus, and it also gets grants from the Welsh Government.
Another source is supported borrowing, whereby repayments costs are contributed by the Welsh Government.
Then there is unsupported borrowing, which involves the council borrowing money from external sources and then paying it back, plus interest, over a long period of time.
In Swansea, there is a requirement for £180.7 million of unsupported borrowing to cover the council’s capital programme over the coming six years, of which £90 million has already been banked.
Steps have been taken to soften the short-term repayment cost impact of unsupported borrowing – and these are a frequent source of debate at council meetings.
The Liberal Democrat-led opposition group, while not opposing investment in the city centre, says the Labour administration is delaying the repayment pain to future years.
Labour says the steps taken are prudent, affordable and that the assets they are building will eventually generate enough income to cover the extra borrowing costs – and kickstart much-needed private sector investment into the city.
The debate could re-surface at next Thursday’s budget meeting when the finances for 2021-22 – including council tax – will be set.
Some funding for the indoor arena will be drawn down via the City Deal for the Swansea Bay City Region, as well as from grants.
Swansea is in line for £50 million City Deal funding – money from the central Government – over 15 years for a wider project with three components: the arena, and new office and start-up schemes on The Kingsway and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s campus in SA1.
Looking ahead, Swansea Labour wants £20 million of capital money earmarked to help the city recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Swansea will be a city without a Debenhams anchor store, with bricks and mortar retail facing major uncertainty – a reminder that interventions at any level might be needed more than ever.