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Kilvery Hill leisure attraction plans unanimously approved

Kilvey Hill, Swansea, looking west (Pic: Richard Youle)

THE PRINCIPLE of disposing of land at Swansea’s Kilvey Hill for a multi-million pound leisure attraction has been unanimously approved by senior councillors.

The council had advertised and consulted on its intention to dispose of open space land, which led to 265 objections and two expressions of support.

Cabinet has now met to consider those objections and agree the next steps. Council leader Rob Stewart said all cabinet members had read the 24-page report on the agenda papers, plus the objections and legal correspondence between a firm of solicitors and the authority.

Cllr Stewart said the objections had been “carefully considered”, and that he and colleagues had weighed up the benefits of the Skyline Enterprises proposal – featuring a gondola ride, downhill karting, a zipline, a hilltop restaurant and bar, picnicking areas, and upgraded mountain biking and walking trails – and whether the loss of public open space could be mitigated.

Cabinet unanimously approved the disposal principle, which means a further decision about lease arrangements with New Zealand-based Skyline Enterprises will be made in due course. The company also has a live planning application in with the council for the circa £40 million project.

Earlier, a group of protesters opposing the Skyline plans had rallied outside the Guildhall, and a smaller number attended the meeting.

Protesters against the disposal of land for a new leisure attraction at Kilvey Hill, Swansea, outside the Guildhall (Pic: Richard Youle)

One of them, Ben Houghton, asked cabinet how it could justify disposing of the land given what he said were considerable concerns about a “critical public asset”, how it aligned with the principle of sustainable development, and whether the council had considered offering the land to the community. He also claimed there had been a lack of proactive engagement and that a request for a public meeting had been turned down.

The council’s legal officer said it had received a direct enquiry from Skyline Enterprises in 2017 about using Kilvey Hill for a visitor attraction, and that a community asset transfer would provide “limited consideration” for the council compared to a commercial disposal.

Cllr Stewart said Skyline Enterprises had held well-attended public events about its plans, and that public responses were “largely positive”. The Swansea Labour leader added that people could still comment on the company’s planning application.

Objectors’ concerns were about loss of habitat and recreational space, impact on health and well-being, the project’s economic viability and sustainability credentials, and visual impact, among other things.

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One objector described Kilvey Hill as a wonder of nature that “I’ve seen heal itself in my lifetime and now you want to rip it apart”.

Another suggested that “carving up a natural hill for entertainment during a climate crisis is a bit extreme”, while another reckoned job opportunities would be seasonal and unstable. Two objectors at the meeting stood with placards behind cabinet members and were asked to return to the public gallery or leave the Guildhall chamber.

Council officer Lee Richards read excerpts from the cabinet report which addressed objectors’ concerns, including that Skyline Enterprises planned to enhance and create new habitat resulting in potential net biodiversity. The company also plans to upgrade existing paths and cycle routes and create new ones.

Cabinet members were told that around 10% of the entirety of Kilvey Hill would be used for the leisure project and that all current public access would remain. Only a small area of the attraction would be enclosed for operational reasons.

The report acknowledged that a large proportion of visitors would drive to the venue at Landore where the gondola base station is proposed, and that internal combustion engines were a source of climate change. It said it was hoped that more sustainable modes of travel would be used in future years, and added that a new railway station at Landore was proposed as part of a separate transport project.

Joining the protesters outside Swansea’s Guildhall but having a snooze (Pic: Richard Youle)

In terms of visual impact, the report said the parts of the hill dug up for the project would be “re-greened” and that views were subjective. “What some may see as a blot on the landscape others see as inspirational, progressive, and bold,” it said.

On jobs, Skyline Enterprises has estimated that 216 direct construction jobs would be created followed by 116 ongoing operational posts.

Mr Richards said the attraction would essentially be year-round and all-weather.

Turning to commercial viability, Mr Richards said: “To protect the council, the proposed commercial leases will need to robustly deal with such matters.” The council has already proposed a fully repayable £4.1 million loan to Skyline Enterprises.  Cabinet was told that outstanding private land ownership matters would have to be clarified when a lease decision was taken in due course.

Cllr Stewart said he acknowledged there were “genuinely-held” public concerns, but added: “What is also clear is that there is a belief that some of the proposals would entirely limit or extinguish access to the hill.” This, he said, was not correct.