PLANS for a new office development on Carmarthen Quay were revealed at an Executive Board meeting on Monday (Nov 30).
The Swansea-based Ethos Group made ‘an unsolicited approach’ to Carmarthenshire County Council, seeking to develop the area where the Quay Centre currently stands.
The future of the Quay Centre is currently uncertain; one of the proposals in the budget consultation is to review youth services provision at the centre, which according to CCC’s website, hosts drop-in centres for the young unemployed and is the base for Carmarthenshire Youth Service and a number of other organisations. The consultation is still open.
Introducing the motion Cllr David Jenkins said that the Chair of the Council and members of the Executive Board had taken the opportunity to visit the Ethos building in Swansea, and saw ‘an exceptional example of cooperative working which allowed small start-ups to develop businesses in the centre of town.’
Cllr Jenkins added that the Ethos Group sought an ‘exclusivity agreement’ which would provide them with the opportunity to get the project ‘worked up.’ The board was invited to consider redeveloping ‘in principle’ either through Ethos, or ‘working towards the relocation of the centre’s current users and openly marketing the site.’
“That is basically the decision before us,” he said.
Councillor Meryl Gravell said that she was ‘absolutely delighted’ and pointed out that talks with Rowland Jones – one of the members of the Ethos Group – had started in 2012.
“This is an opportunity to bring new businesses into Carmarthen – that is what we really need. Quality jobs so that we don’t have as much brain drain as we have in the past,” she added.
Discussing the ‘iconic’ appearance of the Ethos building in Swansea, Cllr Gravell said: “If you are attracting inward investment it is vitally important to have that iconic building. It gives out that openness and welcoming to the county.”
Mark James CBE agreed, and suggested that as the main gateway to Carmarthen it had to be a ‘rather nice looking building.’
Mr James also suggested that Ethos would be to gain funding from the Welsh Government, the EU and the private sector.
A summary said that the site represented a prominent redevelopment opportunity and ‘may also be of interest for other potential uses.’
It was acknowledged that the Town Council had previously expressed an interest in the existing building, as had a community group, which had ‘indicated interest in potential future asset transfer of the property for riverside uses.’
One of the community groups which use the existing building contacted The Herald after finding out about the Ethos proposal through local media. Steve Bright, the Chair of the Gwendraeth Paddlers, said that the club used part of the premises to store canoes, and as a changing room. The basement of the existing building was redeveloped for this purpose using grant funding within the last couple of years.
Mr Bright said that the Paddlers were part of the Carmarthenshire Water Safety Partnership, and through their qualified coaches, allowed young people the chance to try out different boats and gain experience on the water ‘in relative safety’.
It is thought that none of the groups who use the area regularly – including the coracles and the Carmarthen Boat Club, have been informed of the possible development.
“They are misguidedly jumping on to another white elephant saying that there’s no decent office space available when there are empty offices for rent along old station road and the Pensarn Creamery office has been empty for years,” Mr Bright told us.
“The claim that it will help business by drawing more people to the town centre comes while they charge exorbitant business rates, which rob inception businesses of their capital and don’t allow them to get a foothold. Yet again councillors meddle in business without any idea of who pays their wages and gilt-edged pensions while establishing another white elephant edifice to their incompetence.”
The Herald contacted Carmarthenshire County Council to ask whether the results of the budget consultation would be taken into account when deciding the future of the Quay Centre, but at the time of going to press had received no reply.