More Firepool fireworks
The plans around the development at Firepool, or should we say the non-development at Firepool are going off a bit like fireworks at the moment. Once St Modwen pulled out as joint developer with Taunton Deane Borough Council, perhaps this was inevitable. The Council have published tentative proposals for a new state of the art performance venue. This is being pushed around our county town to see what sort of response it generates.
Yet before that has even been developed into a more serious proposal, a new hotel complex has been given the go ahead (at the latest TDBC meeting on Tuesday). Good news you may think, that TDBC have found a new development partner?
No, not at all. You the taxpayer (well if you live in Taunton Deane) will be funding it. TDBC will borrow the money, around £16m, to build the hotel and then line up a hotel manager to run it. So the council will aim to derive a rental stream from the hotel group who sign a deal to manage the hotel.
Let us not dwell on the party politics. These are pretty toxic at TDBC right now and what everyone said, to whom and in what order, is pretty much predictable.
But does the idea of a new taxpayer funded hotel actually hold water?
This is not necessarily a bad idea. However if you put a project out to consultation and then completely ignore the results of that consultation well, I hardly mention the B word here, but it does sound a bit like Brexit. Because TDBC did consult with local businesses to see what they thought about it. Unlike Brexit only 12% voted (35 of 312 canvassed) and of those more than half were against it. So having had a resounding thumbs down from the business community, who are after all the community best placed to understand if there is demand for a major new hotel, TDBC decided they would do it anyway.
Which begs the question why consult in the first place. If you don’t have the faintest intention of listening to the results of the consultation, there is little point in asking the question.
But is it a bad idea? Not necessarily. It is just that all the strategic investments made by TDBC (which in fairness is no different to our other District Councils in this respect) are in property projects. So in terms of generating a revenue stream TDBC has an investment strategy which, to be honest is not a strategy. It amounts to putting all of its eggs in the property basket. Fine if property prices rise, but is that happening? Most pundits are suggesting the market is at best flat and if Brexit goes wrong (what are the odds of that?) then potentially anything from a 10% to 30% fall.
On the face of it TDBC are ploughing on with a project that local business says it does not want and makes no sense as an investment proposition for the council.