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Lidl store plans, M&S eyes up former store and Firepool developments - boom-time Taunton?

Somerset County Gazette: The current Lidl store Off Wood Street, Taunton. The current Lidl store Off Wood Street, Taunton.

TAUNTON’S economy is set to boom with Marks &Spencer considering opening a food hall, Lidl moving to a bigger, purpose-built store and potentially a riverside retirement home.

A major supermarket and several national businesses are also interested in setting up in Firepool.

Developments could include:

  • an M&S food hall in the former Comet store at Hankridge Way, beside the M5;
  • a new Lidl supermarket on the derelict Taunton Youth and Community site in Castle Street;
  • a retirement home on the site of the existing Lidl store off Wood Street;
  • The Range – as reported recently in the County Gazette and somersetcountygazette.co.uk/news - is taking over the Homebase’s Hankridge store.

An M&S spokeswoman confirmed the company had looked round Comet, which closed in 2012 when the electrical retailer went into administration.

The spokeswoman, who said there are no plans to close M&S’s East Street store, added: “We’re always looking at new sites for stores to ensure we have a relevant local offer and are considering the Hankridge Way development to enhance our customer offering in the Taunton area.

“We hope to be able to provide further information later in the year.”

Meanwhile, Lidl is buying the former TYCC site from owners Taunton Deane and Somerset County Councils, a couple hundred yards from its riverside outlet off Wood Street.

It wants to build a bigger store on competitor Tesco’s doorstep – see the proposals at a public consultation at St James Church Hall from 10am to 5pm on Friday, July 11.

TYCC closed in 2000 and was demolished three years later following an arson attack.

Lidl, which has another store in the town in Roman Road, declined to comment.

Taunton Deane leader Cllr John Williams said M&S had made informal approaches about setting up at Hankridge, although the authority had not heard anything recently.

Referring to the Lidl proposals, he said: “It’s an employment opportunity and makes use of derelict land.

“We had approaches from a potential retirement home owner and we’ve put them in touch with Lidl – that would be a suitable use subject to planning approval.

“It’s great for Taunton’s economy.”

Mr Williams said he is optimistic about the future of Firepool, which has been derelict for years, with several national businesses showing “definite interest”.

He added: “We’re aware of criticism that it’s been derelict for a long time, but the Northern Inner Distributor Road – (currently under construction) – will open up access to the site.

“It’s a huge step forward and people are now taking Firepool seriously, including a major national supermarket and national retailers.”

Mr Williams said the economy would be boosted by proposed developments at Taunton Station, with the main entrance relocated to the south side, passenger facilities, a multi-storey car park, public transport interchange, homes and shops.

And work should start on 49 homes in Firepool in the autumn, while a planning application for 92 more homes has been submitted.

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