Our submission on the Firepool Site planning application
Since 2008 there has been an adopted Area Action Plan for Taunton Town Centre that sets out fairly clearly how the area should be developed. The policies in the AAP were produced on the basis of the Urban Design Framework drawn up by consultants Terence O’Rourke in 2005. These were part of the ‘Taunton Vision’ proposals which won a national planning award. So there is nothing basically wrong with the proposals for Firepool in Taunton Deane’s adopted plan. It’s not clear why the Council has spent several years trying to develop the Firepool area in a way that is in conflict with its own plan.
The site needs to be developed as an extension of the town centre, with walkable (and cycleable)streets, 20 mph speed limit, high-density, mixed land uses with town centre, rather than out-of-centre, levels of car parking, etc. Definitely not as an out-of-town retail park! There needs to be a clear high quality walking and cycling link from the station, via the site and Coal Orchard, into the town centre.
There is a need to plan the layout of the area so that a future alternative route to Station Road can be created for bus and cycle priority. Station Road is a key cycling route and is one of the 15 ‘hotspots’ identified in our recent survey of cycling in Taunton. There is a concentration of cycling and pedestrian road casualties along it. Bus operators won’t be very keen to extend their services to the railway station if their vehicles have to sit in traffic jams for 20 minutes just to get from the Parade to the railway station (as often happens now).
Taunton station has been designated as a ‘vanguard’ regeneration project by the Government (along with Swindon and York). The Government is keen to see areas adjoining the stations developed in a complementary way – by which it means the high density land uses, like offices, leisure facilities etc. that will encourage people to travel into the town using the train. Clearly a new supermarket wouldn’t have fitted the bill: people don’t travel by train to do their weekly shop! One might have a ‘Metro’ type store for people picking up small volumes of shopping, but that is a very different ‘animal’ – and would be built as the ground floor of a block of offices or flats, not as a freestanding store with large areas of car parking.
Ideally, the final scheme would be closer to but better than a Taunton version of Temple Quay in Bristol – on a smaller scale, of course, but with the same mixture of land uses, and geared to people arriving on foot, by bike or on public transport, rather than by car.
Firepool is a golden opportunity for Taunton to achieve a high quality urban environment supporting walking, cycling and public transport. It is vital that this opportunity is taken if we are to start to address congestion and traffic related environmental problems in the town.