Woman says testing of LED lights on new Swansea arena ‘lit her flat up like a nightclub’
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
People living close to Swansea’s new arena have grilled South Wales Police, the council and the arena operator about how it will operate late at night.
One of them, Natalie Smith, said the testing of LED lights which cover the new building lit up the inside of her flat like a nightclub.
“When the testing was going on it was like Barons at 3am,” she said, referring to the city’s former nightclub on College Street.
She was speaking at a council licensing sub-committee meeting, where councillors listened to nearly five hours of representations about a licence application for the arena, off Oystermouth Road by Swansea Marina.
The project has been led by the council but the 3,500-capacity venue is to be run by Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), which applied for the licence.
ATG representatives said they wanted to be good neighbours, had liaised with marina residents and would continue to, and that the arena was important to the success of the wider £135 million Copr Bay scheme. The development includes new car parks, flats, commercial space and a coastal park.
The operator also agreed to amend certain aspects of the proposed licence following concerns from those present. After retiring, the licence was awarded by the sub-committee.
The arena will be open from 8am to 2.30am seven days a week, with alcohol allowed to be on sale from 10am to 2am.
Solicitor Ewen Magregor, speaking on behalf of ATG, said: “It is not intended to be run like the Dog and Duck or The Red Lion.”
The company, he said, was honoured to have been chosen as the operator and would not abuse the privilege.
ATG agreed to restrict the sale of off-site alcohol, for smaller pop-up events like food festivals or wedding fairs, to 8pm.
The 365-day a year licence was needed, said representatives, to give the venue flexibility and not miss opportunities of booking bands and other live acts.
But the application led to many objections from marina residents, mainly those in Squire Court and Victoria Quay.
And those who attended the remote meeting took umbrage when police licensing officer Jon Hancock said the force supported the application having held meetings with ATG, and in view of an operating schedule which had considered noise and anti-social disruption.
Squire Court resident Gareth Edwards said it “beggars belief” that no problems were anticipated.
Fellow resident Spencer Simmonds asked if the chief constable of South Wales Police would resign “when these problems happen”.
PC Hancock said a lot of pre-application work had gone on, and that although he expected some noise and disruption he couldn’t say what level it would be.
He said: “Should any issues arise, we can work with the operator to resolve any issues at the earliest opportunity.
“The applicant is under no illusion as to what we expect. We have had quite blunt and detailed discussions.”
Residents were worried about their privacy, how arena audiences would be dispersed, anti-social behaviour and the effect of the LED lights.
One of them, Alan Lewis, said all he was asking for was “to be allowed to sleep in peace”.
The meeting heard that ATG expects to be given the keys to the building in November and then carry test events in January and February next year, featuring audiences of up to 2,000 people, before it opens in March.
Various management plans will need to be submitted to and approved by the council before the official opening.
Mr Magregor said 100 public events were envisaged for the first year, with 115 and then 125 in the two years after that.
Arena general manager Lisa Mart said ATG, which has 58 venues, was used to running arenas in the middle of cities.
“We want to be good neighbours and a hub for the community,” she said.
Quarterly meetings would be held with stakeholders, including residents, and that the event management plan could be updated as and when required.
Asked by Mr Magregor what the impact would be of not having a 365-day a year licence, she replied: “It would limit who or what organisation will be willing to make the journey to Swansea.”
Miss Mart said half of the events would be concerts, with only half of those requiring standing facilities for the arena to reach its 3,500 capacity.
She said the venue would provide 21 full-time equivalent jobs, with 120 casual staff coming in for events. Audiences will be dispersed in different ways depending on whether an event ended before midnight or after.
The arena’s operations manager, Lara Caple-Harding, said: “We want people to leave the area as quickly, quietly and safely as possible while avoiding those key areas that people have noted and are concerned about.”
Council regeneration manage Lee Richards said residents’ views were being taken into account.
A hedge and “heritage panel” to help screen the raised podium level of the arena from residents would, he said, be in place before it opened.
On the LED concerns, Mr Richards said the testing would “guide and inform” the operation and timings of when the lights were lit up, and that this was part of a planning condition.
Marina resident Mr Lewis claimed the lighting was a licensing issue because it constituted a nuisance.
Sub-committee members wanted to know what counter-terrorism and other security measures had been considered, whether people who left an event would be allowed back in, what steps would be taken to detect drugs, and what arrangements had been made to dispose of bottles from the venue.
They didn’t formally announce their decision, but the council has since confirmed that the licence was granted as requested, subject to the revisions offered by ATG.
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