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An innovative mixed-use regeneration development in the heart of Swansea city centre has been hailed as a first for the UK.The Biophilic Swansea project will transform the site of the former Woolworth store on Oxford Street, providing affordable new homes and workspace alongside a community urban farm.

The project will be delivered by Hacer Developments, with Wales’ largest provider of affordable homes, Pobl Group, joining as its residential partner.

The pioneering scheme is the result of extensive collaborative working among a range of local organisations, including Swansea University, the Active Building Centre, Public Health Wales, and a number of local community groups.

Funding awarded through the Welsh Government Innovative Housing Programme will enable Biophilic Swansea to incorporate innovative technologies and community features, to explore a new way of inner-city housing in Wales.

David Dolman, Head of Development of Hacer, said: “There is an urgent need for housing and mixed-use developments that are sustainable in terms of their environmental impact and economic viability, as a response to the climate emergency and to ensure greater resilience and well-being for urban communities. 

 “Thanks to the support of Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme and the approach of the local authority, this project will incorporate innovative technologies and community features to illustrate a new way of urban living across Swansea city centre and beyond.

 “Launching the biophilic model here requires a huge collaborative effort. But the work of our project teams, designers, stakeholders and legal teams already demonstrates that Wales can lead the way in revolutionising how we design our living and working environments.”    

The project will feature two south facing greenhouses at roof level, the largest of which will be serviced by an aquaponics system designed to produce up to 4.5 tonnes of fruits, vegetables, salads and herbs per year.

The aquaponics system will create a continuous cycle where waste produced by fish, living in onsite tanks, adds nutrients to the water which feeds the greenhouse plants. The water is then filtered and recirculated back into the system.

Biophilic Swansea’s aquaponic fish tanks and associated equipment will be developed in partnership with Swansea University’s Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research (CSAR) and will form part of an education and public display on the ground floor of the tower.

The vision for Biophilic Swansea includes residents running and managing the urban farm as a social enterprise. This is founded on research demonstrating that reconnecting with nature is essential to our well-being, and that there are positive community and health outcomes from growing food and living more closely with the natural world.

The project is a mixed-use development that includes affordable and shared ownership housing, as well as retail and low carbon commercial office space.  High quality inner-city apartments will be attractive to families, professionals and older people, balancing the recent trend for student housing with a more varied mix of accommodation.

The existing building, formerly Woolworth, will be redeveloped with new floors added above and a new build tower element to the rear. This will open into a new multi-use public realm, which will become a vibrant public and cultural space and a destination for events and street markets.  The public realm effectively links the Biophilic Swansea project with the new Council led development at 71-72 The Kingsway on the site of the former Oceana nightclub, which will provide high tech workspace.

Pobl is a not-for-profit organisation that has over 17,600 homes under its management across Wales. The Group currently has 36 developments ongoing with the construction of over 1,200 new homes in progress with many more in the pipeline.

In Swansea, Pobl’s development of 52 apartments in Orchard House has recently completed, while work continues on 33 affordable apartments as part of Phase One of the Copr Bay regeneration project. Work is also about to commence on a collaborative project with Coastal Housing to develop a new community of 144 zero carbon homes to the west of the city.

Andrew Vye, Managing Director Pobl Homes & Communities, commented:

“Pobl has a growing reputation for delivering forward thinking housing solutions that push the boundaries. We are excited to be working with Hacer on such an innovative project that will deliver much needed high-quality homes for Swansea and support the council’s wider regeneration plans for the city centre.

“Hacer have shown a real passion and commitment to deliver this project and the support from the Council and Welsh Government has been critically important.”

Pobl has recently exceeded its target of creating 3,000 much needed new homes in the five years to 2021 and has recently outlined its ambitions for the new decade that includes investing in a further 10,000 new homes by 2030.

Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart said:

“This development is an impressive innovative concept and another landmark development for our city.

“This demonstrates the confidence in the ongoing regeneration of Swansea from the private sector and a commitment to our regeneration, restoration and repurposing agenda. It a great example of partnership working, and I’m grateful to the Welsh Government for the funding it has provided to make this happen.

 “In future more people will live, work, and enjoy spending time in our greener, more people-friendly city centre – so the lifestyle, wellbeing, quality standards and greening principles of the Biophilic Living development reflect what the council is committed to creating.”