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SOMERSET: Firepool plans update

SOMERSET: Firepool plans update

New plans to unlock part of a Somerset regeneration site have been submitted as construction on a new innovation hub begins.

Somerset West and Taunton Council has been seeking to drive forward the revival of the Firepool site in Taunton town centre, which has lain vacant since 2008.

Following planning approval by Somerset County Council in February, construction work began on Monday (November 8) of the new £11m digital innovation centre at the northern end of the site.

This coincides with the district council submitting plans to revamp the neighbouring former GWR offices and demolish the former cattle market auction house within the wider site.

The innovation centre will sit will between Canal Road and Trenchard Way, and will form part of the northern gateway to the Firepool site from the recently-revamped Taunton railway station.

The facility is designed to provide 2,613 sq m of modern office, workshop, collaboration, and meeting spaces over four floors, in a bid to encourage small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to become based in Taunton.

Councillor David Hall, Somerset County Council’s cabinet member for economic development, planning and community infrastructure, said: “This scheme will help Somerset meet the demand for top-quality business accommodation for digital businesses in Somerset.

“It will see a number of highly-skilled jobs created and contribute to improving economic productivity and prosperity in Somerset.”

Of the £11m committed to the project, £5.5m comes from the government’s getting building fund – distributed via the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – with a further £400,000 from the same fund going towards improve pedestrian and cycling access to the Firepool site.

A further £3.95m was secured from various additional sources, including £1.7m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and £250,000 from business rates.

LEP chairman Karl Tucker said: “It’s great to see work starting on the Digital Innovation Centre on the Firepool site, which will provide fantastic high-grade workspace for local tech-based businesses and dedicated innovation support to help them grow.

“We’re delighted to have been able to support this project from the getting building fund, which was created to support shovel-ready projects that will deliver new jobs and contribute to our area’s post-covid recovery.”

The district council announced in October a new masterplan for the Firepool site, focusing on delivering a number of elements at the northern end of the site in order to unlock the remaining land and protect the area from flooding.

Following the beginning of construction work, the district council has submitted two planning applications which reflect the aims of this masterplan.

One application concerns the former GWR offices (Block 3 of the Firepool site), which will see a new office building erected to provide employment space, with commercial outlets on the ground floor.

The existing GWR offices will also be converted and extended to provide a new restaurant, with outdoor seating overlooking the wider site.

The other application will see the former auction house on Canal Road demolished and the surrounding land being raised up to prevent flooding from the nearby River Tone.

Councillor Marcus Kravis, the district council’s portfolio holder for asset management and economic development, said: “We have been working with the county council to secure delivery of the digital innovation centre on our flagship Firepool site, allowing it to be delivered concurrently with the infrastructure, residential, commercial and leisure elements which will form part of our detailed plans.

“Next year will see some major activity on site as we start to deliver several simultaneous projects at Firepool.

“We have also been working closely with Digital Somerset and other stakeholders to maximise the potential of this high-quality office and collaboration space to create jobs locally, and attract growth and investment in line with our development ambitions as the first garden town in the south west.”

The council has not indicated whether the two Firepool applications will need to come before its planning committee for approval.

The new innovation centre is expected to be completed and open by 2023.

Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter


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