Debenhams site in Taunton update
Two months ago The Leveller revealed contingency plans were being drawn up for the Debenhams store in Taunton. We should stress that the Debenhams group has not, at this point said the store will close. However as one of the biggest retails spaces in Taunton town centre, the future of the building is of concern. The group has been in administration twice in the last 18 months alone.
With that in mind the landlords of the site of the store have been exploring options for the space.
It is a problem faced by most town centres in Somerset. With the major retail chains feeling the pinch long before the COVID 19 crisis, empty shopping units have become only too common. Only Frome which has fewer chain stores and more independent stores, is at least partially immune.
There should be major questions being asked right now about what the High Street is for. And more to the point what it will be for in the future. The problem is that the district councils, the planning authority that could do something about this, haven’t. Apart from tinkering with street furniture and pedestrianisation in Bridgwater and Yeovil that is. What has been lacking is some deep, penetrating strategic thinking about the way to develop High Streets in a world where we buy online.
In the absence of public bodies leading, it has fallen to private organisations to come up with ideas. The landlords of the Debenhams site are now looking at options and inviting public comment and views.
The second stage of that consultation started last Thursday (06 August). There will be a public webinar on 18 August, 6pm to 8pm. The direct link to the Webinar registration page is https://bit.ly/2Xuo7vm.
For context this is the feedback and the way it is being used from the early part of the consultation:
During Stage One consultation, one of the main themes that emerged was a desire to see unrestricted age apartments (rather than apartments for over 55s).
Following this feedback, the Project Team have been looking at ways of changing the apartments to unrestricted age use, and discussions are ongoing to see if this will be possible. The key issue is parking, as higher parking numbers are generally required for non-age restricted schemes. However, as Councils across the country declare a Climate Emergency approaches to parking provision are changing, particularly in sustainable locations such as this, and new policies are emerging nationally, including policies for less on-site car parking in sustainable locations.
Given the town centre location, with strong transport links and all day to day facilities and services within walking distance, there is a strong argument for unrestricted age apartments with low parking numbers. This reduction in parking spaces would be supported by a range of other measures, including an accredited, publicly accessible Car Club, with charging points for hybrid/fully electric vehicles. Significant amounts of cycle parking will be provided, with approximately 200 cycle storage spaces. A bike pool and e-bike charging facilities are also being considered.