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Palace Theatre work on track despite pandemic

Swansea's historic Palace Theatre building. Credit: Swansea Council

Work is on track on a two-year project to ignite the fortunes of Swansea’s historic Palace Theatre building.

Since Swansea Council acquired the structure – in a horribly distressed state – in the months before the pandemic struck, officers and partners have made progress to ensure it is ready for a smart overhaul. The council took action to secure the building for future generations after years of private ownership which saw the building deteriorate.

Surveys have been carried out, potentially important heritage elements have been safely retrieved, unsound areas of flooring and roofing have been made safe and scaffolding has been put up to offer access.

Artistic impression of the Palace Theatre. Credit: Swansea Council / GWPA

Last month, plans were submitted to see the 132-year-old six-storey structure become home to tech, start-up and creative businesses. If planning permission and listed building consent are granted, the council aims to start the search for a main contractor early in the new year.

The application for planning permission and listed building consent show the building’s structure maintained with the retention and restoration of original historic features and the reinstatement of other historic features.

Work will include the reinstatement and restoration of the auditorium balustrading. A section of tiered seating would be retained to form social seating and presentation space, with the ability to accommodate small scale events.

The interior retains the existing floors that look down towards a stage – as theatre audiences once would have done.

The vision for the wedge-shaped grade two listed city centre building includes workspaces for more than 130 people.

The plans have been assisted by the public through the Friends of Place Theatre Group and a dedicated Facebook page and by others through engagement with Welsh historic monuments body Cadw, council officers, the Theatres Trust and the Victorian Society.

On behalf of Swansea Council, GWP Architecture is leading the Palace project.

Funding is being sought from the European Regional Development Fund and the Welsh Government, via the Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns programme.

Council leader Rob Stewart said: “A lot of preparation work has taken place inside the Palace. It was is a terrible state inside but we want to preserve this landmark building for future generations.

“It will be an important part of the city centre’s £1bn transformation over the coming years – and a strong connection with Swansea’s proud cultural past.

“Other work we’re carrying out to protect our heritage includes a multi-million pound project at the Hafod Morfa Copperworks and significant help with a scheme for the Albert Hall.”

Robert Francis-Davies, the council’s cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said: “I applaud those who have worked safely and to strict government guidelines at the Palace through the pandemic.

“There is still a long way to go to achieve the new-look Palace but progress so far has been tremendous.”

The site stands close to Swansea’s High Street Station at the heart of the city centre.

The Palace Theatre staged performances by stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Sir Anthony Hopkins. It was last used 14 years ago as a nightclub. The council bought the building from private owners this year.

If planning permission is granted, transformation work could start next year with it opening in 2022.