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Former BHS building in Swansea could become home to central library and host of community services

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A prominent city centre building in Swansea looks set to become the new home for Swansea Council’s main library and a host of other community services.

The proposal for Oxford Street’s What! store – formerly occupied by British Home Stores – is the latest step in an ambitious programme aiming to create and protect jobs and contribute to the transformation of the city centre over the coming months and years.

Celebration Assets, the owners of the What! business, recently made the council aware that they were planning to leave the premises to focus their retail efforts on other Swansea sites such as the adjoining former Miss Selfridge unit.

The new-look location in the heart of the city centre could also become home to the West Glamorgan Archive Service, an Employability Hub, as well as a number of other public front-facing services.

If approved, this multi-purpose community space could be serving the people of Swansea by 2023.

The proposals have been unveiled as part of an initial high-level public consultation that starts today (Friday, March 19). Consultation will continue as part of the project and no final decision will be made until feedback from the public has been taken into account.

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The former BHS building which has frontages onto Oxford Street and Princess Way in Swansea’s city centre (Image: Swansea Council)

Council leader Rob Stewart said revitalising the What! unit into a community services hub would be part of ambitious recovery plans for the city centre post-pandemic.

He said discussions are ongoing with a number of public and third sector partners and that Careers Wales have expressed an interest in working alongside the council at the venue.

He said: “We’ve delivered Kingsway, we’re delivering the Palace, the new Arena and Copr Bay, we’ve put up the new bridge over Oystermouth Road and work is due to start soon on the high-tech hub at 71-72 Kingsway.

“On top of that Pobl is working hard on its Copr Bay affordable homes project, which is an amazing endorsement of the ambitions we all share for the future.

“Together we’re investing hundreds of millions of pounds to create thousands of jobs. The cities of the future will be about much more than shopping – they’ll be visitor destinations in their own right, they’ll have thriving local communities who live in homes such as those above shops.

“They’ll be a place to do business and they’ll be a destination with major attractions and friendly cafes and restaurants.

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“That transformation is already happening in Swansea city centre and the council is leading the way with initiatives like the revamp of Castle Square gardens, Wind Street and the coastal park next door to the arena.

“We want to know what people think about the proposals for the former BHS site because it means that vital services will be delivered from the city centre rather than at the Civic Centre in years ahead.”

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Cllr Stewart said: “Using the What! building as our city centre community hub will be cost-effective as we don’t have to build and we can access Welsh Government grants to fund the project.

“Importantly, it allows us to bring a core building back into use, assisting with city centre footfall and regeneration and aiding our post-Covid recovery plan.”

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Proposed services that could be located at the new city centre community hub are:

  • Library provision
  • West Glamorgan Archive & Family History Centre              
  • A face-to-face contact centre for public services
  • Life-long Learning Centre
  • Community and activity space;
  • An Employability Hub with services from a variety of sectors
  • Flexible office and meeting space for the third, public and private sectors
  • An element of commercial space.

The council is already working on longer term plans for the Civic Centre which is one of seven strategic development sites and is set to be redeveloped as a residential-led mixed use community. Discussions are ongoing.

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A spokesperson for Celebration Assets said: “Recently, we made the council aware that the What! building’s leasehold was available – and we were pleased to start discussions with them at that point.

“We will be focusing on retail opportunities elsewhere in Swansea, such as the former Miss Selfridge store where we have the leasehold and which is vacant right now.

“All our What! staff in Swansea will be offered positions elsewhere in our business. Some already work at several of our stores.

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“We look forward to a bright new future for this building and Swansea city centre – and we thank all What! customers for their support at this site over the years.”

Consultation: www.swansea.gov.uk/communityhubsurvey


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Technology

New report reveals Swansea would see ‘very high benefit’ from full 5G rollout – but Government policy and regulation changes needed first

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Swansea features in a new report that identifies 58 local authority areas which would see a high or very high benefit from a good investment environment for 5G – and which would fall further behind if investment continues to be limited to major cities.

The new Vodafone research shows that current regulatory and policy environment around full 5G could see UK missing out on £7bn worth of economic benefits.

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Failure to make the UK attractive as a place for investment in future 5G technology will cause the UK economy to miss out on up to £7bn a year. Towns and smaller cities will be the ones to miss out most in the current regulatory and policy environment, according to new research commissioned by Vodafone.

The benefits of full 5G – developing high capacity, standalone infrastructure rather than building on top of existing 4G equipment – are enormous, especially for industrial uses such as smart factories, and public services such as hospitals which will require ultra-reliable and ultra-low-latency communications.

However, this all depends on significant investment across all parts of the country, and the report warns that the difference between an attractive and an unattractive investment environment is worth £7bn a year to the UK economy by 2030 – most of it seen outside London and other major cities.

The biggest cities, which have the biggest populations and are most commercially attractive to investors, previously saw the fastest 4G roll-out and are now well-positioned to attract investment in 5G. But smaller cities and medium-sized towns are at risk of missing out if the changes aren’t made quickly.

The report makes a series of recommendations which would help to support investment in full 5G across the UK, including:

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  • The Government should publish an updated 5G strategy which sets out specific ambitions for the roll-out of full 5G networks.
  • Ofcom should be open minded about market consolidation when it publishes its review into the mobile market this summer.
  • Government should use its procuring power to create market demand in 5G related services. For example, the installation of smart energy management systems in all public buildings would reduce emissions in those buildings, expand interest in, and the market for, these systems elsewhere, and save money on energy bills.
  • Planning rules need to be set in such a way that they do not stop 5G infrastructure from being rolled out where it is needed and wanted.
  • The business rates system needs to avoid deterring investment in high-value infrastructure.
  • Net neutrality regulations should enable mobile operators to maximise demand by offering consumers attractive propositions that make use of the full technological capabilities of 5G.
  • The approach to annual spectrum fees needs to change so that fees can be reinvested in network deployment instead of being ripped out of the industry.

Ahmed Essam, Vodafone’s UK CEO, said: “5G technology enables both massive innovation and operational efficiencies, especially for industrial uses such as smart factories, and public services such as hospitals which will require ultra-reliable and ultra-low-latency communications.

“But the benefits of this will not be felt equally across the UK in the current regulatory and policy environment – we have to ensure the UK can attract investment in future technologies.

“5G roll-out can be a major boost to Levelling Up, or it can leave some places falling further behind: it all depends on getting the investment environment right.

“As our research reveals, there is a £7bn a year difference between getting this wrong and getting this right. The UK – and in particular our smaller towns and cities – risks missing out on the incredible benefits that the 5G revolution can deliver.

“It’s not too late to create an investment-friendly environment, so we can all benefit from this powerful technology.”

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Fitness

Tyson Fury comes to Swansea as Ware-house Gym celebrates first anniversary

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“Gypsy King” Tyson Fury is making a special appearance at Cwmdu’s Ware-house Gym as the venue marks its first anniversary.

Is he retiring or does he have plans for making another comeback?

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Chris Ware, one of the owners of Ware-house Gym says he’s looking forward to the boxing legend’s live and unscripted visit, which promises a great night of entertainment and maybe even a song or two from the people’s champ himself.

Chris said: “It’s amazing to have such an iconic sports man coming to Swansea. Not only has he inspired so many people through sport but also the way he has battled his own mental health problems.

“His story is amazing on so many levels. He appeals to so many people, and it’s a privilege to have him in the gym.

“Between world class dance brands and now one of the biggest sports stars in the world is coming to Ware-House Gym Swansea, it’s been a great first year.”

The gym opened last year during the height of the pandemic, but despite it’s difficult start the venue has gone from strength to strength.

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It even hosted a pop-up nightclub as Sankeys, one of the UK’s most recognisable club brands announced the opening of their first Welsh venue at the gym.

The Cwmdu venue is now attracting national attention, as the gym became finalists in the UK Active awards for “New Concept, Build or Design of the Year.”

Staff at Ware-House Gym with owner, Chris Ware (centre)

Chris added: “We have pushed and stretched ourselves to provide a 5 star facility that everyone is welcome in.

“When we look back at our plans, we have nearly ticked off every little detail we aimed for. It has been exhausting and stressful but the support of our members and professionalism of our staff has helped us keep the standards so high.

“We have set the bar and we want to move forward as the best gym in the UK.”

Tyson Fury is at Ware-house Gym on Saturday 16 July, with tickets available from Warehouse’s website.

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Uncategorized

Swansea shows rise in business growth despite fears high streets are empty

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Swansea BID (Business Improvement District) are celebrating the opening of the 60th new business in Swansea City Centre since January 2020.

According to a recent Federation of Small Business report on Welsh towns, only 3% of people feel their town centres are thriving; but given the impact of Covid-19, Swansea BID have continued to see businesses opening since the pandemic began. 

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High Street Giants Replaced by Independents

Since January 2020, 66 new businesses have opened in the city centre. In the same period, only 27 have closed, with over half of these businesses citing the pandemic as the reason. As many large high street names such as Debenhams, Disney, Topshop and Pizza Express have closed, the rate of smaller, independent businesses opening has increased.

“We have seen strong growth in start-up businesses over the last few years. I think excellent customer service and experience is a key factor in their success,” said Russell Greenslade, Swansea BID Chief Executive. “We have also seen sharp growth in the hospitality sector, independents and more sustainable businesses.”

Responses to the FSB survey showed that 67% of people in Wales feel that their town centres are ‘bad’ or ‘bleak’. The Vision for Welsh Towns report makes a series of recommendations to support and grow businesses in town centres, many of which Swansea BID actively do; including helping to reduce business costs and directly supporting businesses. 

A new independent restaurant has opened at the former Pizza Express chain next to Swansea’s castle

The High Street is Resilient 

Simon Kendrick, Director of the Games Emporium on Swansea’s High Street said the business is likely to renew their lease for another 10 years thanks to their confidence in the developments happening in Swansea.

“We’ve enjoyed growing with the High Street, it has been fabulous to see the once run down and talked down part of town continue its transformation towards a vibrant part of the city’s cultural life,” he said.

“Swansea BID have been helpful in driving some of that change with initiatives like the Big Heart and city-wide treasure trails to drive shoppers our way, as well as more behind the scenes support like advocating reductions in street-table rates for local cafes. 

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“Currently, the BID is assisting us (and many other businesses) with applying for grant funding to renovate our shopfront, which will further enhance the appearance and character of the High Street,” said Kendrick.

Swansea’s High Street has seen massive transformation over the last few years

Investing in Regeneration

With £1bn set to be invested in regeneration projects over the next few years, the landscape of Swansea is set to transform. 

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Investment and Tourism said, “The growth is encouraging. It shows the combination of our business talent and the work the council and its partners are carrying out to regenerate Swansea to create a modern, confident city that’s attracting more and more businesses to invest.

“We’re doing all we can to create an environment where businesses can thrive, such as the £135m Copr Bay district and our work to transform the look and feel of The Kingsway and Wind Street.

“Much more is planned too, including a revamp of Castle Square Gardens, a state-of-the-art office at the former Oceana nightclub site, and the work our development partners Urban Splash are leading on to transform parts of the city centre, including the old St David’s Shopping Centre.

“Our business community, residents and visitors have lots to look forward to.”

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