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£4.1m loan to company behind £40 million leisure attraction questioned

07 Mar 2024 4 minute read
An image of the proposed restaurant and bar at the Skyline development on Kilvey Hill, Swansea. Image: Skyline Enterprises

Richard Youle Local Democracy Reporter

The wisdom of a £4.1m loan planned by a council to the company behind a £40m leisure development has been questioned by opposition councillors.

Swansea’s Uplands Party tabled an amendment at the annual budget meeting which called on the Labour-run council to remove all future expenditure on Skyline and also ditch a £3.1m plan for a new park and ride in Swansea Vale.

“First in Europe”

Council leader Rob Stewart robustly defended both proposals and said pulling the £4.1m loan to the company – Skyline Enterprises – would also spell the end of Welsh Government investment in the project.

Skyline Enterprises has submitted a planning application to the council for the attraction featuring a gondola ride, downhill karting – known as luge – a zipline which can go round corners, a sky swing, hilltop restaurant and bar, picnicking areas, and enhanced mountain biking and walking trails.

The New Zealand-based company operates similar attractions overseas but the Swansea one, which could cost around £40m to build, would be the first in Europe.

Cllr Stuart Rice, of the Uplands Party – named after the ward it represents – said its amendment would save the council a total of £7.2m. He proposed using £5m of it for road resurfacing work and the remaining £2.2m on measures to improve energy efficiency and air quality at schools.

“We believe this is a priority which is much more in line with what the public want than spending or forwarding money to Skyline for private enterprise to do something which isn’t wholly popular across the city,” said Cllr Rice.

He also felt more examination was needed of guarantees that the council would get its planned £4.1m loan repaid in full.

“Normal practice”

In reply Cllr Stewart said Skyline Enterprises’ planning application was “live” and there were commercially confidential aspects to the council’s proposed financial arrangement with the company which he had to be mindful of.

“Essentially the make-up of the deal with Skyline is that we would invest as we do with many businesses in the city centre. We provide a loan which is fully repaid,” said Cllr Stewart. “It’s a normal practice we do day-to-day.”

He said the council’s finance and legal officers had drawn up proper safeguards regarding the proposed loan and that once repaid the council would be “in positive territory” in terms of income from the operation of the leisure attraction.

The Welsh Government has previously said it would invest £4m in the project, with £1m of that sum repayable, and Cllr Stewart told councillors that this package from Cardiff Bay would have to be unwound if the council ditched its support. He said the Welsh Government envisaged the Skyline complex attracting 450,000 visitors per year, rising to 750,000 in the future, bringing Swansea a multi-million-pound tourism boost.

“Thinking in the future”

Referring to the Uplands Party’s single-ward focus Cllr Stewart added: “We cannot afford to be local, parochial councillors in this chamber and we should be thinking in the future of the whole economy of Swansea.”

The amendment, he said, would harm Swansea. “So it’s a mad proposal in that respect.”

On the £3.1m Swansea Vale park and ride project Cllr Stewart said the council had a long-standing commitment to park and ride facilities – the city currently has one off Fabian Way and one at Landore – and said they encouraged people to choose a more environmentally-friendly form of travel.

The Uplands Party’s amendment was defeated with Cllr Stewart reminding councillors that an extra £3m was being provided for road repairs in 2024-25.

Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Holley said it was his understanding that Swansea East’s Labour MS, Mike Hedges, did not support the Skyline proposal. Cllr Stewart he didn’t want to speak for Mr Hedges although it was his understanding that the Senedd member was not “anti” Skyline but had a broader view around inward investment in higher and further education.

Mr Hedges told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he didn’t think the Welsh Government’s proposed investment in Skyline was a good use of its money.

“If Swansea Council wants to do it then it’s entirely up to them,” he said. “I would not want to interfere with what they do.”

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