A cycling campaign group is calling for a velodrome to be built on part of the Firepool regeneration site in Taunton.
The Taunton Cycling Centre Associates (TCCA) has put forward a proposal to build a “national standard indoor velodrome and a cycling museum” on a substantial section of the brownfield site.
The group – not to be confused with the similarly-named Taunton Area Cycling Campaign, or TACC – believes the facility would be a huge asset to local people and bring in large numbers of visitors and athletes.
The group discussed its proposal with Somerset West and Taunton Council back in August 2019, and had been due to enter further discussions with council leader Federica Smith-Roberts before the lockdown began.
Here’s your guide to where things stand:
What does the group want?
TCCA wants part of the Firepool site to be given over to “a regional hub for sport and leisure” – which would include:
A multi-purpose indoor events arena
A “comprehensive and varied sports hub” – including a fitness suite
A cycling museum and film theatre
Hospitality and business facilities
A hotel to serve the hub, the cricket club and the wider town
Mixed housing and “retail opportunities complementary to the town centre”
To make room for the site, the TCCA would change the current Firepool master-plan by relocating a planned cinema to the nearby Coal Orchard site, which is in the process of being regenerated. It would also reduce the retail element planned for the site to “avoid duplication” with the town centre’s retail offer, move 26 planned housing units closer to the River Tone, and site the hotel near to the cricket club along Priory Bridge Road.
Has this worked well elsewhere?
The group has argued such a development has proved beneficial to other areas in the past – citing Derby City Council’s work on the Derby Arena.
TCCA spokeswoman Ann Reeder said: “Velodrome facilities have been the catalyst to attract people of all ages into sport and become more active.
“Residents can more easily access cycling and have formed new clubs. It’s created job opportunities, benefited local suppliers and businesses, and led to new partnerships.”
The TCCA has also cited the redevelopment of the Ageas Bowl near Southampton – the home of Hampshire County Cricket Club – as another example of a similar successful scheme.
What is the council’s position?
Councillor Libby Lisgo, the Labour ward member for Priorswood (which is near the Firepool site), expressed her support for a velodrome during the local election campaigns in April 2019.
But current council leader Federica Smith-Roberts has been somewhat less enthusiastic – saying she would be more than happy for Taunton to have a velodrome, but that it would not be a good fit for the Firepool site.
She said: “We would be happy to support proposals for a velodrome in Taunton in principle, but we are firmly of the view that this concept will not fit at Firepool, for a number of reasons.
“This was made clear in a letter sent to the promoters in February. We are now setting up a meeting with them to explore the potential of a velodrome on a site other than Firepool.”
Ms Smith-Roberts and James Hassett, the council’s chief executive, are expected to meet with TCCA representatives again virtually in the coming weeks.
What happens next for the Firepool site?
The TCCA has said it will consider making a public case for a velodrome to the full council “when the current social-distancing requirements are relaxed”.
In the meantime, the council is working on two different strands of the Firepool site – the business case for the multi-purpose venue, and a local development order (LDO), which will make it easier and quicker for planning permission to be granted for each section of the site.
A similar LDO is already in place for the soon-to-be-constructed Nexus 25 site – meaning it can be built out quickly provided the designs and layout of the new buildings meet agreed guidelines.
A spokeswoman said: “The venue business case will be coming to the executive committee in July.
“The wider consultation exercise in regard to the LDO and accompanying master-plan will be held after the summer.
“We are pursuing the LDO and expects this to be in place this year. A substantive start on site will be made before the year end.”
By Daniel Mumby, local democracy reporting service