‘Scandalous’: Blowback as £150k to be spent on art along Swansea’s cycle network
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Plans to spend £156,000 on art and heritage work on Swansea’s cycle network have come in for criticism today.
Around six pieces will adorn key routes and gateways along the county’s 70-plus miles of cycling and walking routes, although exact locations haven’t been decided yet.
The funding is part of a £696,000 Welsh Government package secured by Swansea council to enhance its existing programme of “active travel” projects this year.
A report before cabinet said of the artwork initiative: “The project will aim to support local enterprises, groups and culture by showcasing talent and expression, creating a platform for communities to participate in shaping their local area and increase physical activity and exercise.”
The resulting pieces, it said, would “connect users to places of natural, built or social heritage”.
But the £156,000 sum has caused some consternation.
Cllr Wendy Fitzgerald, of the Independents@Swansea group, said she was enraged. She was struggling to get small-scale highway safety projects delivered in her Penllergaer ward.
“It’s scandalous,” she said. “I’ve been quoted £5,000 for plastic bollards to stop people mounting the pavement outside the primary school,” she said.
“We shouldn’t be spending that money on artwork.”
Opposition leader, Cllr Chris Holley, said he understood the need for public art, but added: “It seems an awful lot of money. What are we going to get from it?”
He said art and heritage work on the Swansea to Mumbles promenade had merit because so many walkers and cyclists used it. But he questioned the wisdom of installing pieces on other routes.
“Many of them are hardly used,” he said.
He said that he believed a lot of people in Swansea would rather the £156,000 was spent filling road potholes, which he said would also benefit the cyclists who rode on them.
Commenting on this report, Deputy Climate Changle Minister Lee Waters said: “Public art has an important part to play in encouraging people to use traffic free routes, and to encourage local communities to take ownership of them.
“I decided to set aside a small amount of our active travel funding to enhance routes with art, benches and natural play areas.”
In addition to the art and heritage pieces, £250,000 will be spent widening and improving the cycle route by the Swansea Canal and through Clydach.
And £245,000 will be spent upgrading a cycling and walking link just under a mile long from Craigcefnparc to Clydach.
The remaining £45,000 of the £696,0000 will be spent promoting Swansea’s active travel network and helping the council deliver its existing programme of upgrades.
The council had also applied for £250,000 for a cycle hire scheme but it wasn’t supported by the Welsh Government.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Cllr Mark Thomas, who has the transport brief, said the four projects covered by the £696,000 funding would be completed this financial year.
Council leader Rob Stewart said: “I am sure people in those areas will be very grateful for this extra infrastructure and investment.”
The council is already spending £6.1 million on active travel and low emission schemes this financial year.
They include a new shared-use path by Clasemont Road, Morriston, plus funding for design work for proposed future schemes such as a shared-use path between Penllergaer and Gorseinon and a route from Sketty, through Uplands and into the city centre.
The £6.1 million also covers the cost of 69 new electric vehicle charging points around Swansea.
John Sayce, the chairman of Swansea Bay cycle campaign group Wheelrights, said it would have welcomed consultation on the extra projects which the council had bid for.
It did emerge in the cabinet meeting that the council only had two weeks or so to submit its bid.
Told about the art and heritage initiative, Mr Sayce replied: “I’m still none the wiser.”
Cllr Thomas said he understood people might query the £156,000 sum and come up with other ideas for spending it.
But he explained that active travel funding was broken down into different components, including “place-making”, and that this was the component the council submitted its artwork bid under.
“We could have chosen not to bid for it,” he said.
Cllr Thomas said the council could not now decide to spend it on something else.
He added that the £156,000 would benefit the local artists and groups which would create the new pieces.
“We are exploring what they will look like,” he said.
Cllr Thomas also said councillors and the public had had the chance to attend the cabinet meeting and raise any issues, but hadn’t done so.
Swansea’s track record for path-side artwork is mixed.
A wooden owl carving which was created by a new shared-use path in Trallwn was pinched soon after it opened in 2019.
Wheelrights posted an appeal to find the missing owl sculpture on its Facebook page.