A LANDMARK Victorian building that has lain empty and in a state of disrepair for years is set to be converted into a buzzing hub for start-up businesses.
Up to 43 studios for small technology, creative industries and media firms could be housed in the three-storey Barnicotts building on St Augustine Street, Taunton.
Originally built in 1899 as a collar factory for around 800 workers, it later served as a printers before being bought by Somerset Cricket Club, who sold it to current owner Forward Space in 2008.
Frome-based Forward Space has now submitted a planning application to refurbish the existing building, which backs onto the Cooper Associates County Ground, home to Somerset cricket, along with proposals for a new extension.
Gavin Eddy, founder and chief executive of the firm, who is heading up the £2.3 million project, said: "It's the same application as we submitted in 2009, but because of the financial crisis we didn't move it forward.
"There are good reasons why we are looking to do it now - the Firepool development is finally progressing, Taunton has been granted garden town status, Hinkley Point C is going ahead and the economic environment is more appealing than six or seven years ago.
"We're looking at work stations for start-up, early stage companies, all knowledge-based, high-value added micro and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).
"We had a lot of interest in 2009. It's early days now, but we've already had quite a few approaches and a study with Taunton Deane Borough Council shows there is an extremely high level of demand."
Mr Eddy said he hopes work on the scheme could start towards the end of the summer if planning permission is granted, with work completed by June next year.
He added: "These are exciting times for us and Taunton, which is crying out for this kind of facility. The timing is really positive."
Hubs have been established in Frome and Bristol, where a second one will soon be opened, while Forward Space is in negotiations over a similar project in Bath.
Dale Edwards, chief executive of Somerset Chamber of Commerce, said: "I fully support the re-development of this iconic Grade II listed property in the heart of the county town of Somerset.
"Having seen a similar business incubator scheme in Frome by Forward Space, I am certain it can act as a catalyst to support the economic regeneration by encouraging businesses to set up and grow in Taunton, without having the need to move out of the county.
"It is ideally located adjacent to the proposed development of Firepool and will benefit supporting businesses in the area including the town centre."