Chamber set for £658k upgrade
SOMBRE but well-appointed, Swansea Council's debating chamber is not normally the sort of room people get excited about, writes Richard Youle.
But excitement abounded at Wednesday night's budget meeting when the Labour administration revealed plans for a £658,000 upgrade.
You can imagine Carol Smillie and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen really going to town with that sort of cash.
Liberal Democrat councillor Cheryl Philpott wondered if her ears had deceived her. She said: "I just wondered if it was a bit of a luxury at this time."
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Councillor Rob Stewart, cabinet member for finance, did not quite allay concerns when he replied that the £658,000 sum was just an "indicative amount".
Alarm bells rang — figuratively — when he added: "Asbestos removal is going to cost a lot in this chamber."
He also said that £658,000 was in the upper bracket for a range of renovation schemes under consideration, which were designed to open up the chamber to a wider audience via broadcast debates.
Lib Dem councillor Peter Black said asbestos only needed removing when it had been deemed unsafe, and wondered what tests had been carried out. Head of democratic services, Huw Evans, rode to the rescue, explaining that the large chamber only had four electrical sockets.
This was one of the easier stats to digest on the night.
To rewire the chamber for the purpose of broadcasting debates, said Mr Evans, meant accessing the roof — and that meant removing the asbestos.
Meanwhile, the council agreed to spend £1 million on a new roof for Swansea Market, £550,000 on the Bascule bridge at Morfa, £400,000 rebuilding Langland Bay sea wall, £250,000 on a new Penlan Leisure Centre roof, £200,000 on a new cycle way for Mumbles Road and £150,000 on coastal defence at West Cross.
Spending on all capital projects is expected to come to £50 million in 2013/14, with the ongoing rebuild of Morriston Comprehensive School alone accounting for nearly £14 million.
Over the next three years, the Labour administration also pledged to spend £88 million on council housing.
The council was warned it may have to sell its assets to balance its books. Only a small fraction of the £12 million forecast from school land sales two years ago had materialised. A bigger list of school sites for potential sale is currently being drawn up.