CONSTRUCTION: Firepool innovation centre funding
The construction of a new digital innovation centre in Taunton can finally begin following acceptance of central government funding.
Somerset County Council approved plans in February for a new facility at the northern end of the Firepool site, a short walk from Taunton railway station.
The government granted nearly £6M towards the project in August 2020 as part of its getting building fund, designed to aid the UK’s post-coronavirus recovery.
The actual building work can now get under way after the council finalised all the funding for the project, with the new building expected to be up and running by 2023.
The digital innovation centre plans were developed in conjunction with Somerset West and Taunton Council, which is working to regenerate the remainder of the Firepool site.
It will provide more than 2,600 sq m of office space, meeting rooms and “flexible collaboration workspaces” for small and medium-sized businesses over three storeys, along with a reception area and a cafe.
Pedestrian access will run between the station and the Firepool site, linking the centre to the existing temporary boulevard towards Somerset County Cricket Club and the wider town centre.
Samantha Seddon, the county council’s service manager for economic commissioning, said the new facility would meet both existing local demand from SMEs and provide the means for future growth.
She said: “This scheme responds to evidenced need for high-quality business accommodation and support services to foster innovation, collaboration and growth in the local digital economy and, thereby, will contribute to improving economic productivity and prosperity in Somerset.
“Its facilities and services would be specifically targeted at start-ups, existing businesses and/ or collaborative ventures engaged, or with the ambition and potential to engage, in innovation in the digital economy.”
The UK Science Park Association said it had already received more than 90 “expressions of interests” from individuals or companies wishing to base themselves at the new facility.
Of the £5.9M granted by the government in mid-2020, £5.5M will go towards the cost of the innovation centre itself, while the remaining £400,000 will go towards improving pedestrian and cycling access between the railway station and the Firepool site.
In addition, the county council has secured a further £3.95M for the project from various sources, bringing the total spend to £9.85M.
The additional funds will be sourced from the following areas:
- £1.85M from the council’s capital programme
- £1.7M from the European Regional Development Fund
- £250,000 from the Somerset business rates retention pilot scheme
- £75,000 from the council’s economic development fund
- £75,000 from the district council
Construction is expected to get under way in the coming months, with the facility being completed and open for business by 2023.
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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