Taunton residents have had their say on what businesses should occupy a recently completed regeneration site in their town centre.

The Coal Orchard site (officially known as Riverside) officially opened to the public on November 5, following a multi-million pound investment by Somerset West and Taunton Council to deliver new flats, commercial space and improved public realm near the River Tone.

The majority of the apartments have now been sold and occupied, with an art gallery now open to the public and a further four of the commercial units being under offer, according to the council.

Now local residents have given their views on what businesses should move in to the remaining units – and whether it will make a difference to the town centre’s fluctuating fortunes.

Councillor Mike Rigby, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and transportation, told the full council on Tuesday evening (December 6) that the initial feedback on Riverside had been “very positive” and that the council was working hard to fill the vacant units.

He said in his written report: “We have appointed a new commercial agent who will be following up on a significant list of interested parties, in addition to the four units that are under offer.”

A substantial section of the ground floor at one of the Riverside units has now been occupied by the Titan Arcadia Gallery, which is now open to the public daily between 10am and 4pm (except Sundays).

The gallery features more than 150 artworks by Mr Crabb and other “carefully selected” local artists.

Councillor Caroline Ellis, portfolio holder for culture, said: “I am delighted that we are able to promote and showcase the work of Matt and other brilliant local artists in the centre of Taunton.

“It will offer an amazing experience that people of all ages from across the district and beyond can enjoy free of charge.

“I hope the exhibition will encourage and inspire talented, creative young people to fulfil their ambitions here.”

A number of local residents gave their views on Monday morning (December 12) on what should fill the remaining units within Riverside.

Dave Smith said he hoped the new shops would match the quality of the new gallery, stating: “We’ve already got enough barbers, takeaways and charity shops.

“I’d love a proper men’s clothing store, especially with sizes for larger people. There’s not much of that in the town at the moment, we need to show that Taunton can be stylish.”

Amy Roberts concurred: “I love the way it looks. It would be fantastic to see something like a Saltrock or Weird Fish – something that ties in with the river.

“People talk down Taunton all the time, but we’ve got a lot to be proud of – we should be shouting about this.”

Alison Jones, by contrast, said that those kinds of shops would price out most ordinary residents and not pull people in from the wider areas.

He said: “We don’t need any more overpriced restaurants or coffee shops. It needs to be something affordable – everyone’s struggling at the moment.

“We need something else to pull people in besides the Brewhouse – maybe a big children’s play facility or something like that. Give children and young people somewhere to go.”

John Stephenson added: “Our B&M Store or The Range are too small compared to the ones in Bridgwater or Yeovil – people don’t come there because they know they won’t get what they need.

“I’m not saying we need another Primark, but something like that would drum up a lot more business than a tapas bar.”

Mark Wallace, who works in the town centre, said he was doubtful any business would last long at Riverside due to the high business rates and the rise of online shopping.

He said: “The site looks decent – but I bet you it’ll still be empty for months to come.

“Business rates are too high already, the rent for these units is going to be huge. To make any money, any business will have to jack up their prices – and who’s got time for that at the moment?

“Taunton’s effectively a wasteland now, and this won’t help matters. Compared to Bridgwater, we’re a laughing stock.”