ANY long-term closure of Debenhams would be “disastrous” for Swansea and would not be offset by the new indoor arena, according to the leader of opposition.
Cllr Chris Holley and Liberal Democrat colleague, Cllr Jeff Jones, want the Welsh Government to expand business rates relief to include large premises like the one at the Quadrant Shopping Centre occupied by Debenhams.
The retail giant warned last week that its biggest stores in Wales could close if business rates relief wasn’t extended to premises with a rateable value of £500,000, as it is in England.
Swansea’s Labour administration is leading the £135 million indoor arena project, plus other regeneration schemes, and council leader Rob Stewart said last October that some anchor stores in city may have decided not to stay had it not been for these projects.
But the Swansea Lib-Dem group has now said: “If this (Debenhams) closure is acted on, the impact on the city centre would be disastrous and would have a major impact on footfall, which could not be compensated by building an arena.
“All of our retail outlets are important, but some of these are our anchor tenants.”
It said the money the administration was borrowing to help finance the indoor arena project, which comprises new developments on both sides of Oystermouth Road, would require paying back on top of the existing £32 million per year repayments for current and historic borrowing.
Some of the money for the project is, however, to come from the Swansea Bay city deal scheme. And the arena is expected to bring in a lot of revenue and employment of its own accord.
Cllr Jeff Jones, who chairs a council scrutiny panel looking into city centre developments, urged AMs and MPs to lobby the Welsh Government.
“It is totally wrong that we borrowed huge amounts of money to pay for a city arena having had a promise that city centre retail would be supported and remain,” he said.
Cllr Holley added: “We know that retail has had a very bad few years but I hope these retailers are supported and then they show some loyalty and stay in the city centre.”
The Welsh Government said it had decided to exclude the fewer than 200 premises in Wales with a rateable value of over £500,000, but was supporting more than more than 2,000 businesses with grants of £50,000.
Council leader Rob Stewart said the Labour administration has raised the Debenhams situation with Welsh ministers, and that it was “currently under active consideration”.
He added: “It is disappointing again that the Lib-Dems continue to try and undermine major schemes in the city, and clearly remain indifferent to the £1.3 billion city deal investment.
“They continue to pursue negative party politics despite major progress continuing on schemes across the city and significant investment being made by both the private and public sector. I’ve yet to see them come forward with a single positive suggestion for the city.”
He claimed the party showed “no ambition” during the eight years they led the city.
Cllr Stewart added: “The schemes they did pursue like the disastrous bendy bus damaged the city centre, and introduced a crazy one-way system that helped close The Kingsway and High Street businesses and eroded the public’s confidence in the council.”
Cllr Holley said “the same old excuses” always came back from the leader.
He added: “No-one has asked us to provide alternative plans.”