I have lived just outside Taunton most of my life and served as Leader of Taunton Borough Council for nine years. Some things have not changed. Families who make their home here enjoy a high quality of life in a superb semi-rural environment, enhanced by good road and rail communication links, a strong and broad job market, schools and colleges that better those in many other UK towns and many leisure opportunities including an excellent local food offer and the famous Somerset County Cricket Ground.
But thanks to significant investment in Taunton over the past few years our town and the surrounding area is witnessing unprecedented growth and the creation of new and varied commercial opportunities.
Huge effort and funds have been invested in housing and community facilities, upgraded transport links, superfast broadband and desirable new business space. We have welcomed new retailers and restaurants to the town centre and plans to renew key areas including the rail station are underway. We are proud of what has been achieved and what we can now offer in terms of an exciting, dynamic, comfortable and convenient living and working environment.
It is also vital to note Taunton’s proximity to Europe’s biggest construction project; EDF Energy’s third nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, on the Bristol Channel coast. This £14 billion investment will create 5,000 construction jobs and many more off-site in the businesses involved in servicing and supporting the facility.
The benefits of Hinkley are already starting to trickle down to scores of enterprises and to young people seeking apprenticeships. EDFE and its main suppliers’ pledge to prioritise sourcing from local businesses will ensure that significant opportunities continue to emerge in sectors ranging from information technology to engineering and food production.
We are steering Taunton towards a new role as a major regional centre and thus there are huge opportunities for still more investment in our business, retail and housing sectors, and significant rewards to be reaped.
Despite extremely challenging times financially over the last five years we have maintained virtually all front line services so valued by our community and we are presently in the process of constructing a new multi-million pound swimming pool and sauna to replace the ageing St James Street facility. These are all part of our long term strategy to plan and invest for the future so as to improve life for our existing community and attract the high quality investment we need.
Part of this doing “more for less” to meet our financial challenges has been our “shared services and management project” with West Somerset Council. Implementation of this has meant major changes to working practices for both Councils but as a result Taunton Deane Borough Council has achieved a saving of near £1.6 million which has helped us preserve those vital front line services.
We are also in the process of producing a business case to support the possible relocation of the main council offices located in Deane House to County Hall.
Recent occupancy surveys have shown that desks within Deane House are occupied for just 60% of the time which means we can reduce the space we occupy and save money.
If TDBC moves to County Hall the Council will form part of a gathering of other public sector services, to create a one-stop shop for our community and, if agreed, the relocation is planned for the autumn of 2017.
We are also investigating the options for the ‘future of Deane House’ which may include redevelopment of the site or a disposal.