Llanelli wellness village could bring prosperity to the Valleys

When Emlyn Dole took over as leader of Carmarthenshire council in 2015 he had one word on his mind - regeneration. The county and the region needed a boost to break out of a vicious cycle of job losses, brain drain and underinvestment. Development was going to be key.

“So often we have seen young people go to university and we have had a job getting them back,” says Dole. “The regional economy is still below the UK average. There hasn’t been much to bring them back.”

Two-and-a-half years later, a major step towards redressing this imbalance is tantalisingly close. On 1 November, planning will go in for one of the most ambitious development schemes Wales has seen in decades - a mixed-use ‘wellbeing’ centre bustling with academic, health, science, leisure and business development facilities.

Designed to put the region on the map as a hub of modern industry, the Delta Lakes project in Llanelli is highly ambitious and is expected to boost the wider economy by £467m over 15 years. The £200m scheme will take at least five years to complete and has a lot to prove - not least to potential occupiers. So is the new development going to live up to the hype?

By the end of next year, work will have begun. The plan is to make the Wellness and Life Science Village a magnet for progressive industries and to build research facilities to rival any in the UK.

Carmarthenshire council is investing £200m in the project and will deliver it as part of ARCH (A Regional Collaboration for Health), which includes Hywel Dda and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health boards, Swansea University and the University of Wales Trinity St David. The aim is to create more than 2,000 jobs in the long run and benefit the surrounding region and its two universities.

“This is a transformative project,” says Dole. “We are talking about a £200m investment. It’s going to transform not just Llanelli but the whole region. What we’re putting in place will be somewhere graduates want to come back to.”

The new Institute of Life Science is expected to be the pillar of the whole site. Serving both the universities involved, the institute is designed for multitasking. While offering new clinical and laboratory space, the centre is also to be a new home for tech start-ups and research and development companies. It will also include an assisted-living centre for older people, leisure facilities and a hotel.

Services will form part of the local NHS infrastructure, but it goes beyond that. “We wanted to look at wellness in its holistic context,” says Dole. “It’s not taking the place of any health service; it’s about wellness.”

It may be a long way off completion, but Dole says that there has been “significant interest” already from private sector companies “that we have never heard from before”.

When it’s up and running, the Wellness and Life Science Village will be a key piece in a regional jigsaw. The wider picture is the Swansea Bay City Region, a major programme of projects designed to lift the south coast of Wales and the Valleys, with the help of a £1.3bn injection from central government.

The Swansea Bay City Region

The Wellness and Life Science Village is by no means an isolated project. In 2013, the Swansea Bay City Region Economic Regeneration Strategy was launched - a masterplan to stimulate a series of development and growth initiatives up to 2030.

And in March this year, the Swansea Bay City Deal was signed, green-lighting £1.3bn worth of investment from central government to fund 11 major projects in the region. As well as the Wellness and Life Science Village, the primary project in Carmarthenshire, the city deal means that work can now begin on the Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District, an ambitious 100,000 sq ft digital infrastructure project in the centre of the city.

In Pembrokeshire, the £76m Pembroke Dock Marine project is now officially in the pipeline thanks to the city deal - the result will be a future marine energy centre in the Milford Haven waterway.

And in Neath Port Talbot, the council is seeking to attract the next generation of companies specialising in converged global communications, with the construction of the future Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Services.

Where coalmining and heavy industry were once the big employers, now the regional authorities and private businesses are looking to science. Cue the Swansea Bay Skills and Talent Initiative - a long-term plan to create apprenticeships, more vocational and higher-education places and academic/private sector co-operation, of which the Delta Lakes project will form an important pillar.

Now funding for the city region project is in place, and, all being well, work is set to start in Llanelli next year, the plan is coming together.

Add this to a raft of projects happening in and around Carmarthenshire - from the rebirth of the Carmarthen Park velodrome to the construction of a new retail park at Cross Hands West - and south Wales’s projects look bright.

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