Track your eye across Swansea Bay and one thing stands out more than any other. To some, it’s a blot on the landscape to others, a sign of progress.
There is no dispute about where it sits – Swansea’s wonderful, open bay is the jewel in the crown of the city, an outstanding scene of natural beauty valued by all those who use it.
But such beauty makes people extra determined to preserve it.
So, in 2004, when Swansea Council was asked to consider a bid to build a towering 29-storey residential development, it wasn’t at all surprising that people were very concerned.
The £53m development, situated at Ferrara Quay, would be called Meridian Tower and become the tallest residential building in Wales at 350ft, topping Cardiff’s Capital Tower at 262ft and the capital’s 237ft Altolusso residential development.
But what followed those first plans lodged with the council, especially when it comes to a building overlooking the sea, has been far from plain sailing.
A company called Earthquake was behind the detailed plans which included a restaurant with stunning views at the top. Managing director David Walker identified Swansea as “a city going places” and said it was “delighted to be part of Swansea’s renaissance”.
Many welcomed the bid, including several business leaders. But Swansea Civic Society members were among those to come down strongly against the proposal. They claimed it would dominate the skyline and be little more than a blot on the landscape, with secretary Eileen Walton stating at the time: “It would wreck our unique heritage — the wonderful, open coastline.”
Marina residents groups also opposed the scheme, as did the Marriott Hotel, which claimed significant “shading” from the huge building would hit its business and damage the local economy.
Earthquake Ltd defended the plans, describing the project as a “landmark scheme which is long overdue for the city and one which will complement the council’s vision for regenerating the waterfront”.
And its vision was backed by huge interest from people wanting to live there.
Remarkably, more than 100 people made offers for high-rise apartments before planning permission was even granted, after impressive artists’ impressions were unveiled.
Two city restaurants even began competing to move into the two-storey rooftop restaurant, and one city businessman immediately offered developers a 10% deposit on 100 apartments after seeing just a model of the development and looking at plans.
Fast forward to the end of the year, and members of the council’s area development control committee backed the Ferrara Quay project by 15 votes to five.
In June, 2006, building work officially began on site, and hundreds of prospective buyers turned up in an attempt to secure an address at one of its 123 apartments, ranging from one and two bedroom to three bedroom duplex units and luxury penthouses.
By August the same year, a £600,000 penthouse was snapped up before it was even built.
Around 200 of the scheme’s other apartments, off Trawler Road, which started from £140,000, were also snapped up. Even former England footballer Joe Cole was linked with the luxury development, although it’s not known if anything came of that rumour.
Whilst work on the core of the new marina tower had already begun, it began an impressive climb into the clouds in June, 2007. The developer planned to complete a new floor every 10 days or so as it raced towards its 29-storey goal.
Work was moving along nicely towards a November, 2008, completion date when tragedy struck in January of that year.
A scaffolder with 15 years’ experience in the building trade, died after falling four storeys to his death during the construction of the Meridian Quay complex. He was pronounced dead in hospital on January 25.
Then, in April, there were issues within the tower as a fire broke out after scaffolding planks on the 20th floor caught fire. Crews spent around 45 minutes putting out the blaze.
But this did not put off prospective buyers.
In October, 2008, a mystery buyer splashed out £1 million on a penthouse apartment on the 26th floor covering 4,000sq ft and with floor to ceiling windows giving views across Swansea Bay and the Swansea Valley.
The developer confirmed a top London chef was being lined up to run the kitchen at the restaurant planned for the top of the tower, called the Penthouse, now the Grape and Olive.
But by the start of 2009, the deadline to complete the project had been missed, and things looked more bleak in April that year, as work was halted in a dispute over money.
Workers with contractor Carillion downed tools as the building was 95% complete with only three apartments left to be sold. Electricians, painters and decorators all walked off site on April 3, having been employed in building the impressive development since August, 2006.
Carillion had gradually uncovered the wraps of the building in four-storey sections, the first being in December, 2008, showing the familiar white facade and tinted windows featured in six smaller apartment blocks surrounding the Tower, which also has six commercial units, along with the restaurant on the 27th to 29th floors.
But in April it confirmed it was exercising its right to terminate the contract in relation to payment.
Police had to be called when dozens of sub-contractors went to the site to collect tools and materials and found their way blocked by guards employed by the developer, Ferrara Quay.
Earthquake set about finding replacement contractors as quickly as possible, but weeks turned into months.
Scaffolders then returned to the city’s marina tower almost three months later after the developer and contractor signed a new contract.
Contracts were exchanged on 119 out of 123 of the apartments in what was hailed as Wales’s fastest-selling residential scheme.
By September, the first residents started moving into the 29-storey Meridian Quay tower.
The lower floors would be lived-in first, with all levels expected to be occupied by the end of October.
The restaurant became occupied as well and began serving diners, although it ended up changing hands and later became the Grape and Olive, operated by brewer Brains.
Fast forward five years later, and the tower was rocked by something quite unexpected.
Armed police officers descended on the building after a man carried out an armed siege in the Grape and Olive restaurant.
Hours of tense hostage negotiations ensued as the force helicopter circled overheard, and Swansea Marina was put into virtual lock-down, affecting not just residents and businesses but a wedding party at the nearby Marriott Hotel and an event for a visiting Spanish football team.
The incident ended without injury, thankfully, but the full story of this shocking incident can be read here.
Things quietened down after that.
Then, in March this year, the tower hit the headlines again, when it was reported how it had been sold following a bidding war and after it had been put on the market in September last year.
Six firms, from UK and overseas, had been locked in a battle to acquire the lucrative city centre asset, which was originally put up for sale for £6.7m. Details from estate agent Dawsons, however, later listed the Meridian Quay development as on sale for £3.5m. It has not been revealed what the final purchase price was.
Next, in August, residents received the bombshell news that they must pay thousands of pounds after multiple safety defects were discovered in the tower.
More than 200 leaseholders in the Meridian Tower plus nearby buildings, Meridian Bay and Meridian Wharf, were sent demands by CRM Residential, managing agents for the development, after fire proofing defects were discovered.
March, 2004 – Plans to build the tower are officially lodged.
November, 2004 – The go-ahead is given for the tower to be built, despite opposition.
January, 2005 – Hundreds of inquiries are received from interested parties wishing to move in.
August, 2006 – A 600,000 penthouse is snapped up before it is even built.
January, 2008 – Scaffolder Russell Samuel dies after falling four storeys to his death whilst working on the complex.
April, 2008 – A fire breaks out after scaffolding planks on the 20th floor caught fire.
October, 2008 – A mystery buyer spends £1m on the penthouse apartment.
April, 2009 – Work is halted in a dispute about money. Workers with contractor Carillion down tools as the building is 95% complete with three apartments to be sold.
June, 2009 – Scaffolders return to the city’s marina tower after the developer and contractor sign a new contract.
September, 2009 – The first residents move into the 29-storey Meridian Quay tower.
August, 2014 – An armed siege takes place in the tower’s restaurant – the Grape and Olive.
March, 2019 – The tower is sold.
September, 2019 – Leaseholders are sent demands to pay thousands of pounds after fire proofing defects were discovered.
Swansea Council submitted an Improvement Notice to Meridian Quay Management Company (MQMC), detailing the defects – which were said to include “defective compartmentation between apartments and defective firebreaks on the external facade of the buildings”.
CRM wrote to residents saying at least part of the cost would have to come from leaseholders, calling the bill a service charge item.
It is understood the Meridian Bay and Wharf blocks surrounding the tower will cost £5,130,057 to put right, with more cash needed next year to carry out work on the Meridian Tower itself.
The amount being requested from residents depends on the size of the apartment – £12,296 for a one-bed, £21,435 for a two-bed and £39,379 for a three-bed.
But residents aren’t taking the demands lying down.
Mike Woods, who bought a one-bed flat there as an investment back in 2007, said he and around 20 other leaseholders were refusing to pay for the work.
He said they had chosen to be represented by Walker Morris, which was advising residents they should not be liable for any of the costs, and referred to a similar case concerning a large block of flats in Manchester, where the judge upheld the leaseholders’ claims.
A spokesman for CRM Residential said at the time: “Under the terms of the lease we are obliged, on behalf of all leaseholders, to maintain the development in a good state of repair.
“We have regular dialogue with leaseholders, and other relevant stakeholders in this regard, the contents of which are commercially sensitive and confidential.
“In order to maintain this confidentiality, and protect the interests of all leaseholders at the development, I regret that we are not authorised to respond to your queries or make any public comment.”