Owen Davies is part of a team of five independent researchers with a proposal that involves working alongside the public sector in Wales to develop self-reflection and collaboration as that will hopefully influence a change in working cultures and practices
Swansea Council and Swansea BID (Business Improvement District) are moving forward with regeneration aspirations to improve the Wind Street pedestrian and business environment. The area provides a significant evening, night-time, leisure and entertainment focus for the City Centre, and provides an important pedestrian link between the City Centre and the waterfront.
Owen Davies Consulting & Element Urbanism’s proposals for Wind Street are out for consultation until 12th October.Wind Street Consultation Boards Print Version A3
Only on maps is it known as Wind Street. If you are from Swansea, the most lively and attractive street in the city centre is known as ‘Wine Street’. We think its derived from the original Welsh name for the area fused over time with the history of the area as a location for bars and wine merchants.
The area’s history runs deep, it has the highest concentration of listed building in Swansea, and a reputation for drinking and entertainment that includes the poet Dylan Thomas and notoriety from the Second World for a young GI and future heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano flooring an antagonist.
As one of the very oldest streets in Swansea, it has seen many changes both to its layout and its building. It became a backwater in the second half of the 20th century when the commercial centre of Swansea shifted. However, it has continued to evolve and is now the beating centre of the vibrant evening and night time economy.
Wind Street is now known for its modern pubs, bars, clubs, and restaurants, as well as some of the oldest including the No-Sign Wine Bar. Whilst the areas reputation over the years has been linked with drunkenness and bad behaviour, today it has a very contemporary and relaxed feel to the area matched by its Purple Flag status.
In recent years, the pedestrianisation of Wind Street has been considered as a strategy to support the regeneration of the city centre and to strengthen its day, evening and night- time economy. Previous surveys and discussions have indicated that there is widespread support for this idea from local businesses and residents.
Owen Davies Consulting and Element Urbanism, have recently been appointed by Swansea Council and Swansea BID to take the next step to examine the feasibility of pedestrianisation in greater detail. We have just begun and are expected to be completed by April 2018.
Some of the key aspects of our work include:
- There is an opportunity to create a physical and economic environment that addresses the day, evening and night time economies in equal measure. Wind Street can become more flexible and inspiring as a landmark and destination from the ‘day into night’
- We need to consider a range of factors, some of which are non-physical, such as those relating to the way the street is regulated, managed and maintained.
- The project should help create new economic opportunities through motivating businesses to become more creative, inspiring and ambitious with their day and night time operations
- Design physical improvement that integrates with the rest of the city centre including the city centre regeneration framework, St David’s and the Castle Square redevelopments
- Consider the importance of ‘symbolic capital’ and how to enhance its brand and character as part the city-wide ENTE, and that of a ‘happy, friendly, diverse, culturally rich city by the sea’.
Cardiff is experiencing an explosion in student accommodation, in the last few years there have been some 20 developments granted or expected to receive planning permission. Over 4,000 new flats coming on stream, including flats in what will become Wales’ tallest building.
The Press reported this week http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/second-student-flats-block-cardiff-13924531#ICID=sharebar_twitter on a second block of student flats that wants permission for a change of use to let rooms to non-student due to the lack of demand. As reported, purpose-built student flats are often built to lower standards and cost less than open market residential flats and are usually require less onerous planning obligations.
This move by the landlord has been partly explained as a response to the completion of a development ahead (or possibly behind) schedule and the proposed temporary non-student occupancy is to ensure the flats do not remain empty until the beginning of the academic year next September/October 2018. This may be so, but there has been more than one scheme seeking or already with approval to change to non-student accommodation. At the same time, there have been clear statements of how difficult the student market conditions have become.
It will be interesting to see how successful and trouble free a temporary letting strategy will be for the landlords. It seems there is only enough time for a short-term lease of about 6 months if enough time is allowed to return and repair the flats ready for student arriving late summer 2018. This is likely to have limited appeal to general needs tenants, and may only appeal to social rent tenants and meet emergency housing needs. In a city with a large homeless and rough sleeping problem, these flats could serve a desperate housing problem, short-term. However, is this the type of risk the landlord is thinking of taking for their new flats? Is this an attempt to circumvent the normal planning scrutiny and build lower quality cheaper general needs accommodation? How quickly will short term lets become long term lets to attract a more mainstream tenant?
In a separate but related article, the BBC reported the dramatic decline in non-EU students attending Welsh University http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-42051492, this particularly hard-hitting as Wales that tends to have a disproportionately higher number of students from south Asia. Its known that foreign students look to rent self-contained flats, rather than other forms of shared student housing. From my own experience as a student living in Cardiff in the 1990’s, I can imagine how unattractive the traditional shared terraced student houses have become and a more modern product is required.
If we have hit ‘peak’ student accommodation in Cardiff, how will this affect the regeneration of the cities changing sky line? There is no doubt that the appetite for developing new student flats is helping to fuel the current wave of city development and regeneration across Cardiff’s city centre. Cardiff needs its vibrant and successful university sector and attracting the best students has to be underpinned by modern and vibrant city environment including good quality student accommodation. The city also needs more homes, striking the right balance in the type, quantity, and quality is the challenge.
There are only a small number of Ethylene Oxide (EtO) sterilising facilities in the UK of the scale proposed by Rocialle for their site in Mountain Ash, south Wales. With limited UK development experience and knowledge of the technology, making sure the new plant obtained planning permission meant we had to prove how safe the ETO facility would be, as well as dealing with the planning issues for the site and its surroundings.
For over thirty years, Rocialle has supplied healthcare providers with sterile and non-sterile consumable items, vital to patient care. During that time, Rocialle has become widely regarded by both clinical and commercial specialists with wide ranges of single use surgical instruments and medical packs, packed and sterilised at its facilities in Mountain Ash where it employs 350 people. At this site is situated one of the largest medical clean rooms in Europe, and an e-beam irradiation sterilisation plant !
The new multi-million pound ETO sterilising facility will be a major investment for Rocialle, it will help secure employment for employees at its Mountain Ash site for the long term. A large part of the new facility will be housed within the existing factory building, however there is a need to construct an ancillary unit next door. The design, scale and layout of the new building is determined by the specialist nature of the new plant it will house, the ETO plant is designed and manufactured by Sterimed in Switzerland.
Owen Davies Consulting advised Rocialle on the planning for the new plant and achieved full planning permission from Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC in September 2017. The most important planning issues concerned the design and height of the chimney stack to discharge the waste gasses, and satisfying the Authority that pollution control could be managed and the appropriate risk management systems were in place. The project is working to incredibly tight timescales for constructing and installing the new plant and building, and negotiating out any pre-commencement planning conditions was essential to achieving the overall project programme. For example, we dealt with drainage issues to the satisfaction of Officers and removed any potential planning condition that may have taken a couple of months to address.
Night life for many of us was a rite of passage full of discovery, and life shaping moments. However, the Night Time Economy is no longer as we once remember it, there have been dramatic shifts in the industry, and this create challenges for regeneration and place management in our urban centres.
The presentation given at Regen 17 in Cardiff this week, asked three key questions
1 – The NTE is dynamic, important economically, socially & culturally, in a state of flux. Can policy makers & regulators do more to understand & support it?
2 – The NTE often claims its inconsistently or over regulated curbing commercial & creative activity. Is there a need for greater collaboration between NTE & place regulators, manager & makers ?
3- The recently adopted ‘Agent of Change’ principle for planning and new development – is this really a panacea for the NTE?
The presentation includes reference to a project we have prepared and helping to deliver on behalf of the NTE businesses in Mill Lane, Cardiff.
If you would like to discuss the NTE, please get in touch