UPGRADING a key pedestrian crossing in Taunton town centre will begin shortly after Christmas.

Somerset West and Taunton Council was awarded more than £13.9m from the government’s future high streets fund in December 2020, to be used to support regeneration projects throughout the town centre.

In addition to aiding regeneration efforts at the Coal Orchard and Firepool sites, some of the funding was set aside to deliver an improved walking and cycling route from Taunton railway station all the way to Vivary Park.

To deliver part of this vision, Somerset Council (which replaced the district council in April) announced in May that it would relocate the existing pedestrian crossing on the A38 Upper High Street, moving it directly in front of the Vivary Park entrance gates.

The council has now confirmed that this project will get under way in early-2024 – but could not confirm how much money it would cost.

The crossing currently lies to the west of the park gates, with cyclists being forced to share the pavement with pedestrians in order to access either the park or the pedestrianised High Street.

Somerset County Gazette: The existing pedestrian crossing from the High Street to Vivary Park.The existing pedestrian crossing from the High Street to Vivary Park. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

As part of upgrading the existing lights, the crossing will be “replaced and relocated so it is in direct line with the park gates”.

In addition to delivering part of the new active travel route to and from the railway station, the project is intended to complement the council’s ongoing £16.6m programme to upgrade and replace traffic lights at junctions and crossings across Somerset, switching out equipment which is nearing the end of its operational lifespan.

In Bridgwater, a similar upgrade to the lights at the junction of the A38 Broadway, the A372 St. John’s Street and Eastover has helped to pave the way for the delivery of three new sections of the ‘Celebration Mile’, funded by the Bridgwater town deal, which will eventually run from Bridgwater railway station to the Northgate Docks.

Speaking in May, Councillor Mike Rigby, portfolio holder for transport and digital, said: “These are essential traffic signal upgrades, they must be replaced or they will fail, so it’s vital that we identified the funding and factored the work in as soon as possible.

“This investment in our signals network is long overdue; it follows many years of under-investment in our traffic signals infrastructure, that’s why we’re making it a priority now.

“Of course we appreciate that this will cause some disruption for road users, and our teams will be doing their utmost to minimise this.

“Ultimately we will have more efficient, eco-friendly equipment in our towns as part of ensuring our transport network is fit for purpose for many years to come.”

The council is facing extraordinary pressures on its budgets as a result of the rising cost of children’s services and adult social care – with officers predicting it could have to issue a Section 114 notice (effectively admitting bankruptcy) if it cannot take drastic measures to plug a £100m “black hole” expected next year.

The council confirmed on Tuesday (October 31) that, in spite of this Herculean difficulties, the crossing project would still go ahead – though it could not provide an accurate estimate for how much it would cost.

A spokesman said: “This is still going ahead as part of our Taunton town centre regeneration work. The aim is for construction to start in the first part of 2024.

“We remain confident it can still be funded entirely by the future high streets fund, but we won’t know the cost of this until we complete the design and procurement phase.”

The future high streets funding has to be spent in its entirety by the end of March 2024 – though the council said it expected the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to show some flexibility in this regard.

The spokesman added: “We’re confident there will be flexibility on this deadline. We hope to be able to provide a more detailed update early next year.”