TAUNTON'S councillors have voted to borrow public money to invest in a new hotel in the town centre.

Taunton Deane Borough Council voted on Tuesday evening (April 10) to move forward with an investment in a new 120-bedroom “mid-market” hotel on the Firepool site near Somerset County Cricket Club.

According to local reports the hotel will be run under the Hilton brand.

Hilton said it sees “opportunity” in Somerset – but it would not confirm whether the reports were true or false.

A spokesman said: “Somerset is an area where we see opportunity for the development of our portfolio, but we have no further updates at this time.”

Somerset County Gazette:

Artists impressions for the new-look Firepool

Proposals for a hotel at the south-eastern corner of the site had been approved by committees in two confidential sessions – first by the corporate scrutiny committee on March 22 and subsequently by the executive committee on April 5.

The full council voted to invest in the proposed hotel – but the full details of the amount being invested, and the time-scale for construction, remain confidential on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity”.

Tom Gillham, interim assistant director for asset development projects, said the hotel would have up to 120 rooms, a restaurant and conference facilities.

READ: Hilton investigating building a hotel at Firepool, in Taunton

He estimated that it would create the equivalent of 40 to 50 full-time jobs, as well as a further 30 to 50 jobs from the construction and training processes.

He said in his report that the hotel would “act as an important catalyst,
attracting visitors, business and investment in the wider town centre.”

Once the hotel has been built, the council will lease the building to a trading company, known as the special purpose vehicle (SPV), which the council will own.

Mr Gillham said that the hotel would generate “a satisfactory level of return on investment”, and said that the SPV means of delivery was “an established trading model”.

The money to invest in the hotel will come from external borrowing – but the precise amount that the council will need to borrow has also not been made public.

Somerset County Gazette:

How the Firepool area could take shape

Mr Gillham said: “The estimated capital cost of the project is proposed to be financed by external borrowing through the Public Works Loan Board."

An opposition motion which called for the proposal to be delayed, pending further consultation and the agreed merger with West Somerset Council, was defeated.

As well as agreeing that the hotel proposals should proceed, the council also voted to acquire portions of the Firepool site which remain in third party hands.

Mr Gillham said: “Positive negotiations over the last few years have led to the successful acquisition on north-side of the majority of land required.

"However, a couple of remaining landowners have declined the best value offers made to date.

“The council is the principal land owner of the Firepool site, and in its capacity as promoter of local economic growth it supports the delivery of the revised master-plan produced by St Modwen.”

The precise locations of the land have not been released, but Mr Gillham said that they lay between the cattle market and the Northern Inner Distributor Road (NIDR).

He added that the compulsory purchase of this land “ensures that the council remains in control of all Firepool land yet to be developed for the uses approved by committee.”

Further negotiations between the council and its proposed operator will now take place, with a view to revealing the brand’s identity in late-summer.