SOMERSET: Firepool health provision
New local health services could be provided on the Firepool site in Taunton as part of a fresh push to regenerate the area.
The former cattle market site, which has been vacant since 2008, is currently being used as a coronavirus vaccination hub following the relocation of services from Taunton Racecourse.
Somerset West and Taunton Council recently launched a new consultation on plans for the northern end of the site, with a fresh masterplan for the whole Firepool site expected to be published in early-2022.
The council has now hinted that new healthcare services (such as a GP surgery) could be provided within the Firepool site once the hub has closed down.
A spokesman said: “The new Firepool masterplan will include consultation with our NHS partners about the need for any new health care facilities in that location, or contribution from the scheme.
“The scale of the site does offer a range of different accommodation that could be used for a surgery, pharmacy or other health care facility.
“However, we haven’t had the specific discussions or workshops with our planning colleagues or NHS partners at this stage in the process on the revised masterplan.
“The vaccination hub will remain in place until March 2022.”
The council’s previous Firepool masterplan, which was published in November 2019, divided the site into six distinct blocks which could be delivered in different stages.
The site will include more than 500 homes along with a new hotel, cinema, amphitheatre, a multi-purpose venue (which could cost up to £25M) and a “landmark boulevard” with water gardens and cycling provision between Taunton railway station and the town centre.
A temporary pedestrian and cycling route through the site opened in early-September, passing between the GWR goods office on Canal Road (the area dubbed Block 3) and the future site of the new digital innovation centre, which was approved in February (Block 6).
This latest round of consultation will result in four planning applications being submitted, designed to deliver the following four aspects at the site’s northern edge:
- Delivery of Block 3: the former GWR goods office will be renovated and extended to provide a restaurant and bar. A new office building will also be created with a ground floor café, with connections being provided to Canal Road and the top of the new boulevard
- The new boulevard: this will replace the existing temporary boulevard through the site, connecting the railway station to Somerset County Cricket Club and providing “a high-quality, diverse and exciting link” to the rest of the site. The amphitheatre will be delivered as part of this phase, along with a market space and a rainwater garden (which will aid with flood prevention)
- Access from Trenchard Way: a new access point for the Firepool site will be created on Trenchard Way, not far from the new station multi-storey car park, with a dedicated cycle crossing, a staggered puffin crossing and new cycle lanes. A total of £1.27M was allocated for this work in late-February, with £400,000 coming from the government’s getting building fund and the remainder being provided by the council and the Department for Transport
- Landscaping and other infrastructure: a wide range of works will be carried out to raise the Firepool site levels (preventing flooding from the River Tone), as well as providing drainage infrastructure for the new homes and commercial elements of the site
By delivering these four aspects first, the whole site will be lifted out of the flood plan, making it easier for the other blocks to be delivered speedily.
Councillor Mike Rigby, portfolio holder for planning policy and transport, said: “Firepool is an important site in our regeneration plans, and we are making it a priority in line with our corporate strategy objectives to facilitate development and boost the economy.
“There will be a series of planning applications coming forward as we press ahead with our plans to deliver a quality and improved scheme that not only attracts growth and investment, but creates an enjoyable space that reflects our garden town status.
“It is important to us that the public understand our plans and have a chance to
comment on them.
“This can of course be done during the statutory planning application process, but we want to ask for early feedback in the first of a few consultations to support this process.”
Construction work on the digital innovation centre will begin by the end of October, with the new facility expected to be delivered by 2023.
The council has dedicated £3M towards delivering these four initial applications within the Firepool site, as part of its £13.9M allocation from the government’s future high streets fund.
Planners had originally intended for the site to be subject to a local development order (LDO), reducing the need for individual planning applications for each block – but this was abandoned due to the ongoing issues surrounding phosphates on the Somerset Levels and Moors.
Councillor Marcus Kravis, portfolio holder for asset management and economic development, gave a further update on this matter at a full council meeting held at Oake Manor Golf Club on Tuesday evening (October 5).
He said in his written report: “In response to the constraints of the phosphate issue on submission of a site-wide LDO, officers are working… to find the most appropriate planning route to delivering the Firepool scheme.
“A dedicated development arm, which will be solely focussed on delivery of key regeneration projects, was approved by the full council on November 3, 2020.
“The detailed work to progress this key component has progressed, with formation likely to take place prior to start on site for infrastructure and engineering works.”
To take part in the consultation, visit www.avisonyoung.co.uk/planning-consultations/firepool-taunton by October 13.
The council hopes that the entire site will be regenerated by 2026.
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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