Coal Orchard, Taunton
Redevelopment of a town centre car park into a mixed use quarter connecting the historic town centre to the river and theatre
Taunton provides a regional role in Somerset in terms of employment, education, civic responsibilities and retail provision. It is the county town.
The project was borne out of a place-shaping strategy (Taunton Re-think (2015), led by the council, the residents of Taunton and produced by LHC consultants and is one of the early projects that has been funded and led by the council to regenerate and improve the town centre experience.
This project is an important component of the vision for the town centre- it is about re-connecting the town centre to the river and the theatre and 'repairs' the street network and connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists in the area.
The Coal Orchard scheme is one of the first projects to be delivered to the original vision for the town. It is an important project which demonstrates to the residents of the town that tangible changes can be delivered through public sector liaison and that they have been listened to.
The Vision for Coal Orchard was to create a 'Bohemian' quarter to a sterile car park next to a hidden river.
The previous car park was a utilitarian, empty space that disconnected people from the river and created a vehicle dominated environment around the theatre. The river was forgotten - a hidden natural asset that you couldn’t see. The existing streets felt truncated by the presence of the car park and the pedestrian and cycle movements were difficult to navigate, thereby creating a barrier for movement from the north into the town centre.
This project aims to recreate, reconnect and repair an under-utilised area to provide:
- an attractive new quarter that opens up the river frontage
- repairs the street network for pedestrians and cyclists
- provides new leisure and housing accommodation in the town centre
- provides new employment space in the town centre
- creates a better setting to the existing theatre which is easier to navigate by foot and cycle
- create a sensitive intervention to the Conservation Area
Diversity is key to this project. The ability to create a range of spaces and uses in a relatively small area to then create activity - both day and night, to help support the town centre and create a new destination for the residents and visitors of Taunton.
The scheme includes
- Electric car charging points to allow for car sharing schemes
- Reducing parking in the form of a 'town square' that can be used for markets (electric hook up points have been included)
- Street tree planting that doubles as Suds provision for water attenuation
- Increased river flood capacity by the creation of a terraced seating area down to the river and the ability for boats to moor
- Mixed use and flexible accommodation to suit varying sizes of businesses that can convert between retail and B1 and creative uses
- Active ground floor restaurants and café space to maximise the river frontage location
- Much needed housing in the form of apartments in the heart of the town centre
All these components will help provide jobs, accommodation, leisure and an attractive destination to the town centre in order to make a more robust and sustainable place to live, work and play.
The scheme has been through a 6-year process from inception to completion (almost!).
Through this process, the council and delivery partners have reviewed and interrogated all the options to hone the scheme down to the most appropriate solution.
The combined delivery mechanism of design and delivery has been driven by the council and its council members has enabled a robust solution to be found. The continuity of design and delivery team has ensured that the vision for the site has been retained and delivered at all stages.
The scheme has been delivered via a design & build procurement route. The scheme responds to the Councils public realm strategy and so all materials are sensitive and carefully chosen and go through a thorough determination process.
MACE have been involved in the cost planning from the start of the project and the continuity of the team has helped significantly in the delivery process.
What is very special about this project is that it is a sensitive yet contemporary approach to delivering town centre regeneration in an historic conservation area. It has been procured and delivered by the public sector by working alongside a combined team of both public and private sector design and delivery teams.
It has been delivered before and through the pandemic, in a world where the impact of the internet on town centres is having a massive effect and change on the way we live, work, shop, and socialise. It shows the importance of diversity and willingness to deliver sensitive public sector solutions to the growing problems that face all our town centres.
Whilst the results are not known yet in terms of its effect on the economy (the scheme is due for completion in late 2021/early 2022), the pre-sale rates show a resurgent, buoyant market and a very hopeful future.
Somerset West & Taunton Council (Client)
Area: 0.7 hectares
Cost: £12m contract value as part of a much larger regeneration project
Homes: 42 apartments
- First step in a wider regeneration strategy
- Re-connects the town centre with the river and the theatre area
- Local Authority funded at their own risk
- Combined public-private sector design and delivery team, with designers appointed to see project through from visioning and community involvement stages right through to completion
- Repairs the street network for pedestrians and cyclists
- Creates a better setting for the existing theatre and easy access by foot and cycle
"The lead taken by the public sector has helped promote progress and underpins the emerging high-quality development. A place-specific vision stitches the area back together, deploying a diverse mix of activities/uses and a fine-grained urban approach. The scheme also creates a delightful focus for activity on the riverside and facilitates strong new pedestrian and cycle routes."