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(Article from Somerset County Gazette 24/08/2017)

THE failure to develop a prime site in Taunton in almost a decade has led to the town attracting travellers rather than visitors, it is claimed this week.

The 14-acre Firepool plot, owned by Taunton Deane Borough Council, has become derelict after remaining empty since the livestock market relocated to North Petherton in January 2008.

An outline planning application submitted by the local authority’s development partner St Modwen for a supermarket and car parking, flats, shops, cafes and restaurants, a cinema and other leisure facilities was thrown out by planners a year ago.

Fresh proposals were deposited at the Deane House earlier this year, but they have still not been considered by the Deane’s planning committee.

Opposition councillor Habib Farbahi said: “The delay actually demonstrates that we’re not sure about the plans that we’re proposing.

“The Firepool site should meet our aspirations for a forward thinking progressive county town fit for purpose to create prosperity and exploit our natural advantage of being in the heart of the South West.

“Instead ten years later and nothing has happened - but I’m not surprised when the Conservative administration’s priority is bailing out failing West Somerset Council and spending millions refurbishing the Deane House.

“I’m not convinced that a supermarket with 400 parking spaces is the type of employment Taunton needs and nobody has worked out what the return is to taxpayers of a site worth about £10million.”

Mr Farbahi, who has called for the council to ditch St Modwen, added: “We need to entice visitors to break their road or rail journey to visit us in Taunton, but instead we have encouraged travellers, who have frequently arrived on the site with their caravans.”

The original proposals were refused after councillors criticised the design as looking like “a single large commercial car park”.

If the latest outline plans are approved, St Modwen would then have to agree a section 106 ‘planning gain’ contribution, while a number of compulsory purchase orders would be slapped on plots not owned by the council ahead of a detailed application going before councillors at the Deane House.