PLANS to spend nearly £1million clearing up a derelict site in Taunton have been delayed to allow them to be debated.

A decision order was issued on behalf cllr Mark Edwards on March 13, informing Taunton Deane councillors of the intention to spend £825,000 from the New Homes Bonus fund for ‘site enabling activities’ at Firepool. 

The money would be used towards the construction of an access road from Trenchard Way, formerly the Northern Inner Distributor Road; site clearance and site investigation; site set up works, including boundary fence renewal; and demolitions of minor structures and slabs.

A council report outlining the project said: “Following the successful conclusion of the outline planning process for the site, the council is progressing action planning for delivering the Firepool master plan. A full report on this issue will be presented to council in due course.

“In order to progress matters and keep up momentum, a number of tasks need to be completed on the site and it is proposed to re-profile funding from the New Homes Bonus to fund this activity.”

The works will ‘reinforce the prominence of a boulevard’ running from Taunton Station and along the riverside into the town centre, it said.

But as the decision was made by just one executive councillor, other members felt the process was ‘irresponsible’ and called the decision in to be discussed in more detail before a final decision is made.

Councillors Habib Farbahi and Ian Morrell ‘called in’ the decision and it’s set to be discussed at TDBC’s scrutiny meeting tonight (Thursday). 

Cllr Morrell said: “We all want Firepool to cease being an eyesore and developed for the benefit of new jobs and the community. 

“Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the site - with little to show for it. This financial waste has been detrimental to Taunton - including continued underinvestment in the town centre.

“If a further £825,000 is to be spent, then it is only appropriate that such a significant expenditure be scrutinised for value for money.” 

Cllr Farbahi said: “It is not good practice to spend money on any development before you do a business plan.

“These figures have not gone through council’s own scrutiny, executive and full council, and makes a mockery of the system.”

Outline planning permission for the multi-million pound development on the former market site, which closed more than 10 years ago, includes plans for shops, offices, homes, cafes and restaurants and leisure facilities, including a cinema.

Somerset County Gazette:
MESS: Firepool in March 2019

A spokesman for TDBC said the decision was made as per normal protocols, and going through scrutiny hadn’t been necessary. 

He added: “The decision was taken in line with the authority delegated to an executive councillor.

“The allocation of funding from the New Homes Bonus had previously been approved.

“At the shadow council meeting held on February 21 the capital programme for growth and regeneration 2019/2020 was approved.

“At that meeting it was reported TDBC had previously approved the allocation £16,600,000 of New Homes Bonus funding over the five year period 2016/2017 to 2020/2021, to support its priorities relating to growth and regeneration. 

“A number of spend categories had been approved, including Taunton strategic flood alleviation; major transport schemes; town centre regeneration; employment site enabling and promoting enterprise and innovation; marketing, promotion and inward investment; supporting urban extension delivery; and preparation of local development orders.

“While it is, therefore, not required as stated to go through scrutiny committee, it is within the rights of members to “call-in” the decision, and this is why it is on the agenda for discussion.”