Cadw rejects latest bid to have Swansea Civic Centre listed
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Squatting on a prime slice of Swansea real estate, the Civic Centre is impossible to miss and hard not to judge.
Some people are unfazed by its mass of concrete and warm to its bunker-like appearance; others are less complimentary.
On the face of it, the Civic Centre might not seem a likely building to gain extra protection, but a group called the Twentieth Century Society asked Welsh Government heritage body Cadw to have it listed.
Cadw has now received three requests to list the seafront building since 2016, and has turned them all down.
A Cadw spokeswoman said it thoroughly assessed the Twentieth Century Society’s request but said the Civic Centre didn’t meet the criteria as a building of special architectural or historic interest at a national level.
“Nevertheless, it is a building with considerable local impact and significance, which could continue to be a landmark in Swansea,” she said.
The Civic Centre, she said, was an example of a “large-scale civic complex expressing the organisation of local government in the post-war period”, but it wasn’t “a pioneer”.
The building has many characteristics of a type of post-war architecture known as Brutalism, but Cadw said such characteristics were better manifested in other listed buildings in Wales.
Swansea Council is in the process of moving staff from the Civic Centre to the Guildhall, and the central library and archives will move to the refurbished former BHS store in Oxford Street in due course.
The Labour administration is working with a company called Urban Splash to redevelop the Civic Centre and surrounding land, plus six other sites in the city. It’s early days but a few ideas have been mooted for the 23-acre chunk of seafront land.
When it was appointed as a development partner by the council in 2021, Urban Splash said it envisaged a strong leisure and hospitality focus for the Civic Centre site, plus new homes, event spaces, plenty of greenery and a new beach walkway. Council leader Rob Stewart has spoken about a digital aquarium being part of the mix.
If the Civic Centre was listed, it would have more protection from character-altering changes to its structure and interior. The council could, though, choose to categorise the building as having special local interest, which is known as local listing. Public consultation would be involved. Cadw said local listing of assets provided a mechanism for councils to develop policies to protect and enhance them.
Cllr Stewart said the council would carefully consider the local listing status opportunity.
He added: “The council continues to move ahead with the relocation of Civic Centre-based staff and services to other accessible and carefully considered locations over the coming months and years.
“Urban Splash – our world-class regeneration partner – will be making more progress in the coming months on plans to transform sites in the city centre and on the seafront. These include Swansea Central North, the area between the city centre’s two most prominent churches.
“They continue to develop plans to create an exciting future for the Civic Centre area – as a mixed-use new city seafront district.”
Railway goods yard
The bunker-like building occupies a former railway goods yard and opened as County Hall in 1982. It was renamed the Civic Centre in 2008.
The Twentieth Century Society said it was disappointed with the listing rebuttal. A spokesman said of the building: “It’s a fine example of Welsh civic architecture, fully deserving of national recognition. We’re currently considering our options and what the next steps may be.”
Opinion among people out for walk on the prom was mixed. Raymond Edwards, of St Thomas, was not a fan of the Civic Centre. “It’s been horrible from the day it was built,” he said. “To me it’s got no character – just concrete and glass. I reckon they should bulldoze it and build something tidy.”
Alison Davies, of Pontardawe, said: “Architecture-wise, I think it’s lovely. To me it’s an iconic building, and it would be a shame if it wasn’t here. The tiling inside is very 1960s.”
Paul Carpenter, of Jersey Marine, said: “In terms of architecture it’s ugly. I’m not a fan of Brutalist architecture, and I don’t think it’s aged well. I can see why the Welsh Government haven’t listed it. But I love the library and cafe inside.”
David John, of Gorseinon, said: “The library is the best place to come and relax, with the views it has. The positioning of the building is ideal. The exterior is okay, but needs a bit of tidying up.”
John Boxall, who happened to be visiting Swansea with his wife Jacky as part of a Twentieth Century Society tour of the city’s buildings, said: “We are not put off by concrete. Its location is fantastic. To turn civil and public into private gain is clearly not appropriate.”
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