A CRUCIAL bridge in Taunton town centre could be widened to provide part of a new cycle link between the railway station and the town centre.

The government provided nearly £14m through its future high streets fund to deliver various improvements in Taunton town centre to create a new active travel route from the station to Vivary Park, via the Firepool and Coal Orchard regeneration sites.

The council has already allocated a sizeable portion of this grant (which was awarded in late-2020), with around £5m being spent on delivering the new boulevards through the Firepool site and an undisclosed sum going towards a new crossing on the A38 Upper High Street.

The authority now intends to widen the existing River Tone footbridge (also known as the Morrison’s footbridge) to allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross simultaneously between either side of the river.

The existing bridge, which lies between the supermarket and the Brewhouse Theatre, currently links up with the National Cycle Network route 3, which runs along the north bank of the Tone and onto the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal.

Cyclists wishing to use the bridge to reach the theatre, Coal Orchard or the wider town centre currently have to dismount, since it is too narrow for pedestrians and cyclists to safely share the same space.

Somerset County Gazette: The existing River Tone footbridge in Taunton town centreThe existing River Tone footbridge in Taunton town centre (Image: Daniel Mumby)

Somerset West and Taunton Council originally intended to use the future high streets funding to build a new bridge between Coal Orchard and the Morrison’s bandstand a few hundred yard downstream, arguing this would be cheaper than modifying the existing bridge.

However, these plans were scrapped in November 2023 after more than 600 Taunton residents signed a petition against the proposals, with local resident Martin Paikes branding it “quite a large and ugly structure”.

Under the new plans, the existing span of the bridge will be widened to meet Department for Transport (DfT) guidelines, with the existing steps and ramps on the south bank (near the theatre) being retained).

On the north bank, new steps will be created on the approach from Hammer’s Wharf, while a new ramp will be put in place towards the bandstand to make it easier for cyclists to move between the bridge and the existing cycle route.

A spokesman for Stantec (representing the council) said: “The cycling route was identified as a priority in the Taunton local cycling and walking infrastructure plan (LCWIP) and includes developing a boulevard at Firepool to connect to the Riverside (Coal Orchard) path network and National Cycle Network route 3.

“It also establishing a bridge river crossing that improves movement for cyclists and all other users, and improvements to key junctions or routes, such as along High Street and Upper High Street, as well as new cycling infrastructure to further encourage active forms of travel.

“A key benefit of this is that it will connect all these new schemes with other town centre features, such as the Brewhouse, Somerset County Cricket Club, key retail shopping streets and Vivary Park.

“The existing bridge is narrow and currently has inadequate space for cyclists to travel across when there are other forms of traffic.

“At current, the existing ramps cannot properly support access to those with permanent and temporary disabilities and create a confined space where users converge.”

Somerset County Gazette: The current bridge is too narrow for pedestrians and cyclists to safely share the same space.The current bridge is too narrow for pedestrians and cyclists to safely share the same space. (Image: Stantec)

The council is expected to make a decision on these plans by the end of the summer, with the future high streets funding having to be spent in its entirety by the end of March 2025.

Work began on Friday (May 17) to deliver the northern section of the Firepool boulevard, which provides a link from the railway station to Canal Road via the A3087 Trenchard Way and enhances access to the new Firepool Centre for Digital Innovation.

The council is currently procuring the contract for the southern part of the boulevard (with a projected budget of £2m), which will run from Canal Road to the river and include the creation of a new amphitheatre and water gardens.

Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, said: “This should be a real game-changer for the way that people get around our county town, be it local residents or visitors arriving by train and bus.

“Investment like this is vitally important to Taunton’s vibrant future so we’re thrilled to see this ambitious scheme under way.

“It’s part of a bigger picture which is about creating a cleaner, greener, flourishing town centre which will benefit everyone, including businesses.”