"WE want Firepool to be a symbol of success, not of failure."

That is the message going forward under the new Liberal Democrat Somerset West and Taunton council as it's announced hotel plans are being put to bed.

Leader of the new council, Federica Smith-Roberts, joined Cllr Habib Farbahi at the Firepool site on Thursday morning, to explain the changes which have taken place.

Somerset County Gazette:

NEW BEGINNING: Councillors Federica Smith-Roberts and Habib Farbahi at Firepool 

Insight of a wasteland eyesore, the site has been transformed into a grassed area which will be used for public enjoyment, until other plans are put into place.

Cllr Smith-Roberts said: "The turf is being laid at it will be a temporary community space for all to enjoy. Then there will be the boulevard and brilliant solar panel lights to make this a public space while we work on the detailed plans for the Firepool site."

Cllr Farbahi announced intentions to U-turn on plans to build a tax-payer funded hotel on the Firepool site at the first full council meeting of the newly elected officials on Wednesday evening (May 22).

He said future plans should not be an 'uncertainty' for taxpayer money.

"I don’t think it is council’s business to speculate in wide ventures such as the hotel business," he added.

"We have been totally opposed to it because the business stack has been veering towards the developers, the people that actually are going to be running the hotel, and I think it is totally wrong that we can actually expose taxpayers money to such challenges and we have a number of other issues.

"It has to be ratified by the council, of course, but we are as a team determined to bring it to the next full council. I am happy that I have managed to come to this decision, working with the officers and with the executives to come to that decision.

"It was a difficult decision to come to but I can assure the public we came to it for the benefit of the taxpayers. I don’t believe in piecemeal development, I believe in having a strategy and looking to the future.

"The hotel investment that was proposed was proposed in 2010. I am not saying I am against any hotel venture, I would like to see 10s of four/five star hotels to come to Taunton and I would embrace them, but I will not expose taxpayers’ money to things that are so uncertain.

"There was a number of issues I was not happy with and that is the reason we took the decision."

Somerset County Gazette:

Somerset County Gazette:

At the time the plans went ahead, cllr Smith-Roberts did vote in favour of the new hotel.

She has since defended her decision, which was made for financial reasons, but also the council's prerogative to 're-evaluate' its decisions.

She added: "At the time I had meetings with officers and I looked at the case in front of me and I felt the return on investment made sense. As a council we struggle with central government cuts and it was a way of looking at it financially and sustainability.

"However, we are allowed to re-evaluated that decision, listen to the community, hear the opposition that is raised and think we now need a plan to move forward with. Not based on 2010 decisions but something that is going to be here for the next generation. Not just for 2020, 2025, this development has to be future proof and financially sustainable.

But what comes next? It looks like the council is going back to the drawing board, but this time, councillors will ensure the public 'buy in' to whatever plans are decided - because 'it's everyone's site'.

Cllr Farbahi added: "In time we are going to bring different ideas to the public forum and ensure the public actually buy in to it. Whether they want an innovation centre, I am determined to deliver something for the future industries because we need to future-proof, and look to 2030 rather than 2010.

"We need to ensure our finances actually work for us. We have been handed over an almighty challenge by the previous administration.

"As a community we will all come together and add value, and take it forward, based on evidence. This is not going to be my decision, or the leader's decision, this is going to be everybody’s decision, and I invite everyone who has plans or ideas or visions to come together and work with us.

"It’s not just the council’s responsibility, it’s every single one of us. Every taxpayer owns this site, and it is every taxpayer that needs to have a plan to deliver for the next generation and the generation after."