Contractor appointed for Junction 25 upgrade

A multi-million pound scheme to upgrade the busy M5 Junction 25 roundabout at Taunton is scheduled to begin next month following the appointment of the principal contractor.

Somerset County Council has developed a scheme to increase the capacity of this vital link to improve traffic flow, ease peak hour congestion and unlock land for employment to the east of the M5.

Now, following a decision by the Council’s Cabinet before Christmas and the completion of the mandatory procurement standstill period, the contractor can be named as Alun Griffiths (Contractors) Ltd.

This name will be familiar to many in Somerset as they are currently delivering the Western Corridor improvements scheme in Yeovil.

Somerset County Council is now working with Alun Griffiths to finalise the detailed plans for delivery.

Councillor John Woodman, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, said: “We’re pleased to have Alun Griffiths on board and are now working with them on the details of this vitally important scheme.

“Works are planned to begin next month and we’ll be announcing details of the start date and public drop-in events very shortly so we can meet people and go through the plans in more detail.

“This scheme is hugely significant and will provide much needed improvements to one our busiest junctions. We can’t wait to get started.”

Griffiths’ Executive Director Martyn Evans said: “We are delighted to be appointed to deliver this important scheme with Somerset County Council. Griffiths have, over many years, developed a close working relationship with the county resulting in the successful delivery of significant projects which have provided added value to the local economy.

“We look forward to starting work on Junction 25 and recognise the importance of this scheme for the local community and route users. Griffiths will work considerately with the community and do our best to minimise disruption to road users during the various construction phases of the programme.”

The J25 scheme is expected to cost around £19.2m with allocated funding from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Growth Deal Fund, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Highways England, Somerset County Council and developer contributions.

Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Steve Hindley CBE DL said: “The Junction 25 improvement is one of the LEP’s largest Growth Deal projects. We’re committed to working with government to attract investment in projects that generate growth and help businesses raise productivity in Somerset, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay. This major infrastructure improvement will do just that by increasing the connectivity of our area to UK and international markets.”

Leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council, Cllr John Williams said: “The enhancement of Junction 25 represents a major step forward to improve our all-important road system. It opens up a significant opportunity to bring new business and investment to Taunton. It is not only vital to cope with growth across the town but is pivotal to our plans for the Nexus 25 employment site which will support innovation, collaboration and the productivity that our economy needs. It is great to see this project moving forward to benefit the long term connectivity and economy of Taunton. I now look forward to the announcement of the preferred route of the A358 in the spring which is another essential element of our plans to deliver improved infrastructure to match the growth in housing, jobs and leisure in our County town.”

The upgrade involves full signalisation and enlarging of the roundabout, widening of the eastern exit, a new roundabout to access the proposed Nexus 25 employment site, and safer pedestrian and cycling facilities.

Junction 25 currently experiences congestion in both peak hours, with queues frequently extending along the A358 in both directions and it will help address issues with backing up onto the M5.

The scheme aims to improve journey times, reduce congestion, improve Park & Ride journey time reliability and create a more attractive gateway to Taunton, Yeovil and the A303 from the M5. The scheme will also unlock access into the proposed Nexus 25 employment site and support other planned growth across Taunton.

The designs have been shared with Highways England who are developing a major dual carriageway improvement to the A358 between Ilminster and the M5. Highways England consulted on three A358 options last year and these localised improvements to Junction 25 are necessary regardless of which wider A358 option is taken forward by Highways England.    

The J25 scheme, which is expected to take two years to deliver, has also been planned to run alongside future planned improvements at the Creech Castle junction on Toneway in Taunton. This scheme is currently being developed but works are expected to begin in 2020. Co-ordinating them to overlap in this way should reduce the impact on motorists by reducing the overall timescales compared to running them consecutively.

You can stay up to date with current and future roadworks as well as checking for live travel incidents at www.travelsomerset.co.uk or by following @TravelSomerset on Twitter.

Keys To Business Success On Offer

Business owners and would-be business start-ups are invited to an event in Bridgwater this month that could make all the difference to their success.

The event from 2pm to 7pm on Monday November 19th at J24 – The Venue includes a talk from business growth specialist John McCarthy at 6pm as well as ‘on-tap’ professional advice and guidance from a team of experts.

Organised by councils from Taunton Deane, West Somerset and Sedgemoor, the event aims to give a vital kick-start to the hundreds of small firms, one-person bands and entrepreneurs with great ideas that are based in the districts.

Doors at J24 – The Venue open at 2pm on the day and visitors will be greeted by representatives from the councils who will be supported by colleagues from planning and revenues.

Organisations with stands at the event include Heart of the South West Growth Hub, Somerset Business Agency, Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and Somerset Energy Innovation Centre.

One of the organisers, Gordon Dwyer, senior economic development officer with Taunton and West Somerset said: “There is some first class business support available in the area but for people starting out on their business journey it can be a confusing picture.

“We have listened to our businesses and we thought an event like this one would help them understand what is available and which services are most suitable for their needs. It will also be a valuable opportunity to meet others in the same situation as themselves.”

“We know it is often difficult for businesses with only a handful of staff or sole traders to get away from their work which is why we have planned this event as a ‘drop in’ and timed it from after lunch into the evening”.

The event is free to attend and there is no need to book a place.

For more details, contact Hattie Winter on h.winter@tauntondeane.gov.uk

Brewhouse ambitions being realised

BrewhouseTaunton Deane Borough Council (TDBC) and Taunton Theatre Association (TTA) have announced the appointment of MICA Architects to redevelop The Brewhouse Theatre & Arts Centre on the Coal Orchard site.

The news was revealed today (Friday 5 October) during a visit to the riverside venue by the Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

TDBC who own the arts centre and the operator TTA, have been working on plans to expand and revitalise the 70s building into a flagship, multi-purpose arts venue fit for generations to come.

MICA is a leading architectural practice responsible for the Southbank Masterplan, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, Fairfield Halls restoration, National Maritime Museum and Horniman Museum in the UK. MICA will work in partnership with theatre and acoustic specialist, Sound Space Vision, whose international portfolio includes Theatre Royal (Bath), Dubai Opera House and Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (Toronto, Canada).

Cllr Mark Edwards, whose portfolio includes the arts, culture and business, said: “This investment represents the council’s commitment to regenerating Taunton Town Centre and its appreciation of the positive cultural, economic and social impact that such arts projects have on people living, working, visiting and studying in the region. These plans play a central part in the regeneration of the Coal Orchard creating a vibrant and thriving centre on the River Tone.”

The improved venue will include an enlarged main auditorium and flexible studio theatre to enable a greater programme of live performances, with improved acoustics and better facilities for national touring productions. The revitalised arts centre will wrap around parts of the existing building, working in harmony to preserve the adjoining listed 18th century house.  This will provide a range of new spaces including performing and visual art studios, cinema, cafe and gallery while making the most of the river frontage and creating the potential for pop-up performances and events.

TTA are in already in talks with several service providers and arts organisations who are anticipated to reside in or utilise the rejuvenated facility, creating a thriving cultural hub in the heart of Taunton.

Vanessa Lefrancois, Chief Executive of TTA, said: “I am in no doubt that this redevelopment project, will unlock Taunton’s potential and act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the County Town.  We are confident MICA and their partner Sound Space Vision will deliver the Council’s and TTA’s shared aspiration for this exciting development.  Such projects require thoughtful consideration and investment, in order for our communities to reap the significant cultural, social and economic benefits they can deliver. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with TDBC to deliver a beautiful, bespoke, multi-purpose arts centre that the people of Somerset will be immensely proud of and enjoy.

Stuart Cade, MICA Director, said: “We relish the opportunity to work with Taunton Deane Borough Council and the Taunton Theatre Association to realise their ambitions for this beautiful site by the River Tone. MICA bring expertise in performing arts, in historic building, in public realm, and in leading wider project teams on complex cultural projects, with proven success in delivery – on time and to budget.. As a team, we work across the UK embedding ourselves in our client’s location and context, taking pride in the co-production of their aspirations to create uplifting environments for local communities.”

The capital cost for the project is fixed at £12million and the project is planned to be delivered by autumn 2022.

Businesses to have their say on hotel proposals

Taunton Deane Borough Council’s business consultation seeking views on the proposed hotel at Firepool is being run throughout October.

The Council’s Planning Committee resolved in March 2018 to grant outline planning consent for a mixed use development at Firepool, including a new hotel.   The separate decision to build the hotel as a council led commercial venture was deferred in order to consult with local businesses.

The Council has now produced a leaflet with information about the project, the reasons for it and the benefits it is expected to bring.  It also explains the wider commercial approach the council is taking and how the proposed hotel investment is part of that.

Points raised by businesses from the consultation will help to inform the Council’s approach to the hotel project and other commercial ventures that the Council may develop in the future.

Cllr John Williams, Leader of the Council said: “The proposed hotel is a key part of our plans for the regeneration of Taunton town centre and could be a huge asset, bringing significant money into the local economy and creating jobs at both the construction and operational stages for local people.

However we respect that local businesses want to have their say and are keen to hear their opinions through this consultation. Following the departure of St Modwen as the Council’s development partner at Firepool, we are also taking the opportunity to reflect and listen to different ideas coming forward locally in shaping and developing this important town centre site.”

The business consultation will run from Monday 1st October to Wednesday 31st October. All the details and a link to the consultation can be found on the consultation page of Council’s website https://www.tauntondeane.gov.uk/consultations/

Pay on exit going live this autumn

Pay on ExitThe new pay on exit parking system is due to go live in seven Taunton car parks this autumn.

The council is working with contractors to complete the installation of equipment at the Orchard, High Street, Tangier, Canon Street, Wood Street, Castle Street and Enfield car parks.

The complex work which has included ground works, installation of barriers, machines and cabling, is due to finish by end of this month. A period of testing and training will then take place with the aim of going live in early November.  This means customers will be able to take advantage of the new arrangements in the busy Christmas period.

The Council has already installed Variable Message Signing (VMS) at key locations such as Priorswood Road, Cross Keys, Toneway, East Reach, Silk Mills and Wellington Road.

The VMS systems will help drivers to find car parks and know how many spaces are available and the type of parking – short stay, long stay and commuter. It will also avoid them having to drive around to find a suitable space and should ease queuing and reduce congestion.

Cllr Richard Parrish, Executive member for transport and parking, said: “This £1.2million scheme of significant improvements to car parks and signage should make a real difference to drivers in Taunton. VMS will really improve the flow of traffic and help drivers find the space they need quickly and efficiently, while pay on exit will mean people do not have to rush back to their cars while shopping, dining or on business in the town. This is a great example of the Council working to make parking easier for residents and visitors while improving the traffic flow and in turn reducing air pollution. I’m looking forward to seeing the improvements in place.”

A new charging regime to help with clearer pricing and designation of TDBC car parks will also come into effect with the pay on exit scheme. Changes to the designations of the car parks will give users a clear understanding of where parking is available and for how long you can stay there. There are small increases for some car parks. Other car parks will remain static in their charging for short stays, while for longer stays in the majority of car parks, it will be cheaper for most people.

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