Development company’s £4.9m scheme to be put up for sale. Christine Eade reports

Project Taunton, the local development company that mapped out grand regeneration plans for the town, faces an uncertain future as it spends the remains of its grant.

But Project Taunton will leave a legacy, because this month a development where it acted as catalyst will come to the investment market.

In 2006, Project Taunton won Growth Point Funding — a government grant of £8m — for infrastructure projects.

Part of the grant paid for the demolition of livestock buildings in the redundant market at Firepool, close to Taunton railway station, enabling St Modwen to begin development.

Viridor, the waste disposal company, will relocate to Firepool from nearby Great Western House in Station Approach this summer.

St Modwen, Project Taunton’s development partner, has started to market the 27,000 sq ft office — the first such investment in Taunton for many years — for a possible £4.9m.

Speaking from the restored auction rooms on the Firepool site, Peter Davies, development manager at St Modwen, speculates on who will buy the building.

He reveals that the rent is £17.50/sq ft on a 20-year lease with no break until the 15th year, and adds: “From an investment point of view, Viridor, part of the Pennon Group, a top 250 FTSE plc, is an investment with a secure income for 15 years. The buyer could be a wealthy individual, or it could appeal to an institution.”

So far Viridor has no neighbours, and Davies says St Modwen will not build the remaining 70,000 sq ft for offices and a hotel without a prelet.

Several government departments and agencies — including the Charity Commission, the Valuation Office Agency, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — work in Taunton, and occupy office space at rents of between £7 and £10/sq ft. Before the coalition stopped the public sector taking space, these would have been obvious tenants.

But St Modwen’s agent, Andrew Maynard, a director of Alder King, says he is monitoring those with lease endings in the public sector.

Winding-down of Project Taunton

The first to move to Firepool is Project Taunton itself. In March, the last two members of staff, project director Ian Franklin and project manager Mark Green, will move into the old auctioneers’ office. They will work with the economic development team of Taunton Deane Borough Council.

Green says there is less than £1m left from the fund. They expect to spend this on salaries and projects in the next two years.
Franklin says achievements included buying farm land in Wellington for ponds to divert flood water from the River Tone.