SCA 8 – Swansea Bay- west

Summary description 

The SCA forms the western part of a wide, sweeping shallow muddy sand bay enclosed by coastal hills and protected from south westerlies by Mumbles Head. The River Tawe enters the bay here and there is a marina and a dredged channel across the bay to serve this and the docks to the east. The bay is well used by commercial vessels and leisure and fishing day boats out of the marina, the impounded Tawe and the drying Mumbles Road moorings. Blackpill is an SSSI and important for over-wintering waders such as sanderlings. The varied mix of urban and suburban settlement and greenery on the hills and seafront are visually unified by the strong arc of the very wide sandy beach and the simple unspoilt surface of the bay. They are also unified by the corniche of very popular promenade, parkland and road along almost the entire seafront. The primary visual foci are the Mumbles and lighthouse off Mumbles Head with their distinctive profile, often seen in silhouette behind the lifeboat station. The Meridian Tower forms a tall man made vertical focal point in the centre of the bay. There are views across to Port Talbot and the coalfield plateau and, on clear days, to Exmoor.

Key characteristics

  • The western part of a wide shallow bay protected from the south westerly winds by the limestone headland of Mumbles Head with a backcloth of hills.
  • The River Tawe enters the bay to the east and its material combined with the transported coastal sediment form a very wide beach of muddy sand with patches of gravel in the inner bay giving way to slightly gravelly sand further out.
  • There are patches of submerged forest/biogenic reefs in the bay.
  • Blackpill SSSI is extensive, covering the western part of the beach, and is an Important Bird Area for over-wintering small waders.
  • The bay was once exploited for oysters but the industry collapsed due to overfishing.
  • The edge of the bay and hinterland is covered by Swansea and suburbs which initially grew in the early 18C as an industrial centre, becoming the world centre for copper smelting, ‘Copperopolis’. This was served by limestone and coal extracted along the edge of the bay and the Clyne valley respectively.
  • The seafront once hosted the first known railway passenger service in the world- the Swansea & Mumbles Tramway which ran along a mineral railway.
  • The northern coastal edge is now with a mix of civic, university, leisure, marina and housing uses all bound together by a hard edged corniche on the seafront with walking, cycling, parks and road behind the beach.
  • To the south west, at Mumbles, the old fishing village asserts itself with the old village centre and the boat related seafront, slipways, piers and lifeboat stations.
  • There is a drying anchorage at Mumbles Road is used for a mix of sailing and power leisure boats and small fishing boats.
  • The very shallow waters of the bay deepen to the south east and there is a dredged channel to the mouth of the Tawe and Swansea Docks, used by commercial vessels.
  • The Tawe is impounded by a barrage and locked with berths and moorings, in addition to Swansea marina.
  • Mumbles Head with distinctively shaped pair of rocky islets and Trinity House operated lighthouse is a strong landmark and termination to the bay. Cherrystones race lies within 0.5km of the head.
  • The bay is well used by a variety of leisure craft including sailing and powered cruisers, as well as for day boats and commercial vessels.
  • The beach is moderately popular with nodes of intensive use dotted along the edge, whilst the promenade is very popular with runners, walkers and cyclists all year round with its ever changing vista across the bay.
  • The bay sweeps in a smooth wide arc and is large scale but feels moderately enclosed by hills.
  • The primary foci are the Mumbles and lighthouse off Mumbles Head with their distinctive profile, often seen in silhouette behind the lifeboat station. The Meridian Tower forms a tall man made vertical focal point in the centre of the bay.
  • In the hinterland, the linear terraces of housing rising up to the top of Townhill and the University are prominent with important green spaces and trees in between.
  • Views of the bay are possible from a variety of spaces inland including the Clyne Gardens.
  • The sweeping curve of the wide sandy beach, highly visible at low tide, is the key feature. The variety of the hinterland land cover is unified by the wide sweeping beach and the simple unspoilt surface of the bay.
  • Views are possible across to Port Talbot steelworks, which is seen against the backcloth of the coalfield plateau, and to Exmoor on clear days.
  • The backcloth of hills are important to the character of the bay giving it a sense of enclosure and drama. Their mixed character is a balance of built form and ranges from the serried ranks of housing of Townhill to the green slopes of the Clyne Valley . Similarly at the detailed level, the buildings on the seafront contribute strongly to the varied character of the bay.

Forces for change

These can be divided into:

  • Natural processes
  • Visitor pressure
  • Marine use- commercial and leisure fishing
  • Offshore energy or minerals
  • Development pressure
  • Land management changes
  • MOD use

Initial thoughts are:

The area is sensitive to sea level rise and increasing severity of weather.

The SMP long-term objectives are to hold the line through maintenance and upgrading of existing defences in order to protect tourism assets and properties. These include managing the risk of coastal erosion and flooding to the promenade, A4067 and B4433 highways, and development inshore. The continued dredging of the navigation channel to allow access to Swansea Docks, the Tawe barrage and marina is recommended.

The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon which has been approved in the western part of the SCA would change the character of Swansea Bay as a whole if implemented. It would remove its feeling of unity splitting the bay into three components, and would remove the unified sweeping character created by the wide beaches along the shore. It will also change coastal processes possibly leading to additional accumulation of sand or other material on the beaches.

Another force for change includes potential intensification of development along the corniche or hinterland which could adversely affect character.