PLANS for a £6.5 million Museum of Somerset have been submitted by Somerset County Council.

They set out the vision for a restored Taunton Castle and 21st Century museum.

The aim is for a visitor attraction telling the story of Somerset from prehistoric times to the present.

Gallery spaces will be fitted with the latest exhibition design techniques to display the museum's internationally important collections.

People will be able to access and learn about these in a variety of ways such as interactive displays.

The museum will offer improved services, including a café, extended opening and a large temporary gallery to stage national touring exhibitions.

It is hoped visitor numbers will double to over 60,000 annually.

Much more of the castle - which partly dates from the 12th Century - will be open to the public.

There will be a courtyard Welcome Centre and an entrance into Goodland Gardens, as well as improved access for people with disabilities.

The project, backed by the County Gazette, has secured £4.8million funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A fundraising campaign has been launched for £250,000 of the remaining £1.7M required, with a number of grants and donations attracted.

If the planning application is approved, work should start next September, with the museum closing from March in preparation and re-opening by summer 2010.

An Open Day at the museum on Sunday, November 18 will allow people behind the scenes before the work starts.

Tom Mayberry, Somerset County Council's Museum of Somerset Project Leader, said: "We're pleased to have reached this important milestone in our efforts to create the Museum of Somerset.

"We've conducted a lot of work with the public to find out what they want from their Museum, and are confident these plans will deliver their aspirations."

*For more images of how the museum might look, get your copy of this Thursday's Somerset County Gazette.