Swansea Castle Concrete Caution

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Swansea Council are jubilant over obtaining £165,000 from Welsh Government and Cadw to improve Swansea Castle's accessibility and appearance.  Following an initial phase which brought improvements to the castle's upper floors and tower, allowing new access to visitors during a number of open days; the eventual outcome of the second phase is meant to bring the castle back into the centre of activities, giving some space for castle tours, battle reenactments and market stalls.  This all sounds agreeable considering the castle has been neglected and inaccessible for many decades.  The castle is currently ranked a disappointing 59 out of 62 Swansea attractions on Trip Advisor with reviews to bring shame to the city's heritage.

Is that concrete?!

However, when passing the developments at the castle, visitors cannot help but notice the expansion of concrete and kerbs that seems endemic of anything new that is introduced to the Swansea centre landscape.  The requirement for accessibility that complies with the Disability Discimination Act obviously is paramount in any landscaping project, but surely a site of historical interest should benefit from more sympathetic paving materials?

Swansea Castle Courtyard

There seems to be little information regarding what the final 'hard and soft' courtyard landscaping will look like, but there is real concern that the project will further contribute to the great swathes of concrete already coating Swansea's once greener areas, such as Castle Square (once gardens), The Kingsway roundabouts and the new development called a European Boulevard.  Time will tell.

Old Swansea observatory set to open as a seafront café bar

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After 3 years stood empty and disused, the Old Observatory, known as Marina Towers will be presented a new lease of life, in the form of a café bar and holiday apartment.  

Inside the old Swansea Observatory

The iconic building situated in the prime location of the seafront, close to the city centre, has been unanimously approved by owners Swansea Council to be leased and converted into a café bar with holiday accommodation on the top floor of the two towers.

Noah Redfern, owner of the popular Uplands venue Noah's Yard, submitted plans for the redevelopment and re-purposing of the building in 2012.  The application pointed out that previous cafés in the area have dwindled and been turned in to residential apartments.

The plans include the following developments:

  • build two extensions to create a ground and first floor café bar
  • install a new balcony
  • create an area for staff
  • add a one-bedroom holiday let
  • install solar panels

Noah Redfern described his vision:

"It will offer Italian-inspired food as well as ice cream, hoping to recreate that lost and forgotten way of the traditional ice cream dishes, with banana splits and affogato to name but a few.

"I also intend to have a jazz night there, too, which could hold easily the best jazz setting in the UK. What gets better than a moon over a perfect ocean bay overlooking Mumbles?"

A small number of local oppositions were heard, mainly concerned with parking facilities, residential disturbance and late-night revellry.  However Mr Redfern reassured that he intends to only operate before midnight, except on New Year's Eve and that an additional pay and display carpark will be in operation before the new venue is expected to open in October 2013.

It is refreshing to see elements of Welsh business and the local economy surviving the long-drawn out recession by employing fresh ideas for regeneration; just what Swansea is crying out for.  Da iawn!

Who is chopping down Swansea's trees?

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Residents of Swansea have noticed a recent spate of mysterious tree fellings.  As reported by the South Wales Evening Post, trees along the Swansea foreshore have been illegally chopped down in the dead of night, some trees being partly hacked and left to topple over, or be removed by the council due to health and safety concerns.

Blackpill tree vandalism

However, this problem is not a new phenonema.  Tree vandalism in the area has been recorded in previous years too.

Date Location Trees affected
31 Mar 2010 Underhill Park, Mumbles, near the corner of Langland Road and Newton Road, opposite Mumbles Baptist Church. Young trees

8 felled, 4 damaged and removed
28 Mar 2011 Along the main footpath at Rotherslade Road in Langland Mature trees bored and injected with pesticides
22 Feb 2012 From the skate ramp in Blackpill to opposite the Grange Territorial Army Centre in West Cross. 6-7 trees cut down or sawn 3/4 through trunk
26 Feb 2013 From the skate ramp in Blackpill to opposite the Grange Territorial Army Centre in West Cross. 7 trees partly sawn through and removed by the council.
28 Feb 2013 From the skate ramp in Blackpill to opposite the Grange Territorial Army Centre in West Cross. 2 trees partly sawn through and removed by the council.
06 Mar 2013 Opposite Llwynderw Drive, West Cross A 45ft mature ash tree partly sawn through and removed by the council.
13 Mar 2013 At Mumbles' Underhill Park, near its border with Newton Road 25-35ft silver birch and ash trees. 1 felled and 5 partly sawn through and removed by the council.

Your average armchair detective might suspect a common modus operandi in action, which suggests there is a link between the attacks, either by same perpetrator or copycat crime. Most of these records show similar types of vandalism, particularly the fact that trees have been left partly chopped down and a danger to the public. Two main locations have also been targetted, with the Blackpill area attacked at the same time each year. 

In similar cases in the UK where a criminal conviction has been made, the perpetrator has often had the motive to selfishly improve their view from their property.  This is something to consider in this case as many houses in this location overlook Swansea Bay.  However, despite the similar types, methods and times of the vandalism, the divergent locations of Blackpill and Underhill Park indicate the motive to be different or more complex.

Environmental vandalism

The vandalism will likely cease now that the sap has started to rise this spring, however, Swansea residents should remain vigilant and be prepared for repeated attacks next February and March.

Support for The Oxwich Bay Hotel Marquee

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Over the past 20 years, 24 Gower hotels have ceased trading; and the current long-term economic omnishambles, verging on being a triple-dip recession, means the hospitality trade is likely to continue to struggle.

The Oxwich Bay Hotel is one of only 5 hotels in the Gower Peninsula which has survived the hard times.  The proprietor, Ian Williams, employs nearly 50 members of staff and the business helps inject up to £1 million into the local economy.  One of the successes of the hotel has been to utilise the hotel as a beach-side wedding venue, complete with luxury marquee.

However, the hotel each year battles with Penrice and Swansea councillors to extend the temporary planning permission to use the marquee for the full year, rather than the current April-October restriction.

This year's planning application by chartered surveyor Patrick Atherton (representing Oxwich Bay Hotel) raises a few well-placed criticisms towards opponents, The Gower Society and the landowner of neighbouring Oxwich Bay (part of the Penrice Estate).

The Gower Society

Since the inception of The Gower Society in 1947, it has undoubtedly played a crucial role in protecting the natural beauty of Gower. However, the pressure group has also been accused of nimbyism, over-exaggerating the visual impact of modern developments and blocking local economic sustainability.

The visual impact of the marquees has been exaggerated and inaccurately portrayed by objectors, particularly the Gower Society, which is a minority interest pressure group that does not represent the views and best interests of the majority of Gower's residents and business proprietors.

- Patrick Atherton, February 12 2013, South Wales Evening Post

The Penrice Estate

Criticisms aimed at the 'blot' on the landscape at Oxwich Bay, owned by Thomas Methuen-Campbell, have made direct aesthetic comparisons between the beach-front facilities, highlighting unfair decision-making practices.

Oxwich Bay

Views of the southern part of Oxwich Beach are spoiled and scarred by parked vehicles, ugly and poorly maintained concrete block buildings with flat felt roofs, burnt and rusting red waste skips, brightly painted shipping containers and various materials which have been imported to raise the level of the top part of the beach.

- Patrick Atherton, February 12 2013, South Wales Evening Post

Methuen-Campbell has strenously denied the accusations as "nonsense" and listed:

All the material on the beach is natural, brought in by the tide.  Any lumps of concrete may have come from the boat ramp. The containers for watersports have been totally repainted. The two shops and toilets are soon to be replastered.

- Thomas Methuen-Campbell, February 12 2013, South Wales Evening Post

In retaliation he refers to the hotel marquee:

Every beach visitor has said, "What a dreadful eyesore", particularly in the winter.

- Thomas Methuen-Campbell, February 12 2013, South Wales Evening Post

Aesthetic comparisons

Patrick Atherton's criticisms are valid.  

The only thing that lets the place down are the eyesores - derelict buildings, poor toilets and very poor cafe. If owned by the local estate suggest they update the facilities at least and knock down the derelict buildings.

- 'Shame about facilities' by BathWendym, reviewed August 22 2012, TripAdvisor

A derelict coal house has lain empty on the beach front since the 1990s, which had planning permission approved in 2011 to convert it into a restaurant.  Most people agree it is a welcome opportunity to improve the tatty beach-front.

The marquee is in the grounds of the Oxwich Bay HotelOxwich Bay buildings

Image of Oxwich Bay Hotel marquee © Jeremy Bolwell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Aesthetics are often subjective but brightly coloured shipping containers are arguably more of a blight to the landscape than a clean, white marquee.

Dylan Thomas 100 Festival - Centenary Celebration

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2014 sees the centenary of Dylan Thomas' birth in Swansea. A year-long festival is planned to celebrate the poet's work and the places that inspired him.  Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion will particularly feature in the festival's activities.  A life-size, bronze statue of Dylan will be erected near his birthplace in Cwmdonkin Drive, where he lived for 20 years before moving to London in 1934.

Nearby Cwmdonkin Park is currently (2013) undergoing renovation work in readiness of the festival, to include the upgrade of the Dylan Thomas shelter, the restoration of the Dylan Thomas drinking fountain and the refurbishment of paths, railings and benches. 

Dylan Thomas drinking fountain

City and County of Swansea have put out to tender the opportunity to develop the recently renovated pavilion into a 1930s 'Kardomah'-style tearoom.

Mumbles Community Councillor, Brian Arthur, derided the plans to celebrate one of the world's most quoted poets, branding Dylan Thomas as a binge-drinker who is a bad role model for modern youngsters and Mumbles "should wash our hands of him".


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