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Swansea Bay city deal: Wellness village ‘confidence’ warning

Llanelli wellness centre artist's impression Image copyright Hywel Dda/Arch
Image caption The wellness village plans were unveiled two years ago

Controversy over a £225m Swansea city deal flagship project could “cause a loss of confidence”, an independent review into the programme has warned.

The proposed “wellness village” in Llanelli aims to bring together health facilities and life sciences research.

Five staff have been suspended as Swansea University holds an investigation related to the project.

But the independent review said as yet it had not heard evidence that undermine its business fundamentals.

And the report said it “certainly” should not undermine delivery of the £1.3bn city deal as a whole.

What is the wellness village?

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Media caption“Wellness village” – then Carmarthenshire councillor Meryl Gravell explained the concept in 2017
  • It would cost £225m and be built on former industrial land at Delta Lakes close to the Llanelli coast
  • It would bring together a university life sciences institute, retirement and care village, an eco-park, community health hub and rehabilitation centre, as well as “wellness hotel” with spa – to try to tap into the emerging wellness tourism sector
  • It is one of the key projects in the Swansea city deal, which aims to create more than 9,000 jobs over 15 years in technology and science
  • Initial ground works started at the site in 2017 and Carmarthenshire planners supported the project in January 2019.

The city deal brings together four councils, two universities, two health boards and private business – backed up by £241m UK and Welsh government support.

The rapid review – by Actica Consulting – was ordered by both the Welsh and UK governments into how the city deal was being managed and implemented.

It recognised that governance issues involving the wellness village have been given a high priority by the city deal and that “the restoration of public confidence may take some time”.

It also said it was important the city deal kept its cohesion, warning that a combination of concerns over funding and of the “much-publicised concerns on the wellness village could cause a loss of confidence within the region”.

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It added that the loss of a key local authority partner could prove severely damaging to confidence of private partners. “In this context, real progress must be demonstrated and we suggest that the time for exchange of emails and revised business cases has passed,” it added.

Image copyright UWTSD
Image caption Artist’s impression of the Egin creative hub centre in Carmarthen
Image copyright Swansea Council
Image caption The 3,500-capacity indoor arena is set to open in 2020 – but other phases include a tech business district

The approval of at least some projects this year was “critical both financially and to build confidence”.

It found that two other city deal projects could progress and that their business cases were “fit for purpose.”

These are the Yr Egin creative digital cluster in Carmarthen, around the new S4C headquarters, and the £168.2m City and Waterfront digital district in Swansea, which includes a 3,500-seat indoor arena.

Councillor Rob Stewart, chairman of the city deal joint committee, said: “We will now look to agree and implement the review’s recommendations, which is evidence of our ongoing commitment to deliver an investment programme worth £1.8bn and over 9,000 jobs to south-west Wales.”

Deputy economy minister Lee Waters welcomed the report and said it gave the Welsh Government, local partners and the private sector “confidence to invest in the region and bring about economic growth and change”.

A joint statement with the UK government added: “Our commitment to the Swansea Bay City Deal is strong and both governments are determined to see it deliver for the communities of south-west Wales. Working with our regional partners, this review report will help us to achieve this ambition.”

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