First tenants of £11m innovation centre to move in ‘within weeks’

First tenants of £11m innovation centre to move in 'within weeks'

The first companies renting space within Taunton’s new £11m innovation centre are expected to move in “within weeks”, Somerset Council has claimed. Somerset County Council begin building the Firepool Centre for Digital Innovation (FCDI) in November 2021, having secured planning permission for the Taunton facility in February the same year. Work has been slowly but steadily progressing since then on the facility (formerly known as the Somerset Digital Innovation Centre), which will provide a base to small and medium-sized businesses within the digital sector. Somerset Council (which inherited the project in April 2023) has been organising tours of the premises, which has already hosted a small number of conferences and other events since construction was completed. The council has said it hoped to have the first permanent tenants moving in before the summer, as work begins to ramp up on the wider Firepool regeneration site. The centre lies at the northern end of the Firepool site, sandwiched between the A3087 Trenchard Way and Canal Road, just across from Taunton railway station. READ MORE: Two sheltered housing sites to close leaving 45 people looking for somewhere else to live READ MORE: £50,000 to be spent on new public artworks near Museum of Somerset Of the nearly £11m which has been spent on the project, £7.3m has come from external grant funding, including contributions from the government’s getting building fund (£5.45m), the European Union’s European regional development fund (£1.69m) and growth deal funding from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (£235,000). The council has provided the remaining £3.6m through its capital programme, and will retain ownership of the building for the duration of its lifespan. The new facility includes four floors of flexible office space, along with event spaces, co-working hubs, a reception area and a café. The building benefits from ultrafast broadband, allowing for high-resolution video conferencing, and also includes a dedicated audio-visual podcast room. Somerset Live WhatsApp Breaking News and Top Stories Join Somerset Live’s WhatsApp community for top stories and breaking news sent directly to your phone Somerset Live is now on WhatsApp and we want you to join our community. Through the app, we’ll send the latest breaking news, top stories, exclusives and much more straight to your phone. To join our community you need to already have WhatsApp. All you need to do is click this link and select ‘Join Community’. No one will be able to see who is signed up and no one can send messages except the Somerset Live team. We also treat community members to special offers, promotions and adverts from us and our partners. If you don’t like our community, you can check out at any time you like. To leave our community, click on the name at the top of your screen and choose ‘Exit group’. If you’re curious, you can read our Privacy Notice. Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, explained the benefits of the building to the Local Democracy Reporting Service during an exclusive tour on Thursday afternoon (April 25). She said: “We see this as very much a centre not just for Taunton employment, but much wider. “We’re looking particularly for companies who want to be looking at digital activity and seriously develop their businesses – we want to support that. This is a well-funded and well-put together project, which I think will have huge benefits for the community. “We have a quality building here which is going to really make a difference to supporting our ambition for having Somerset at the centre of digital innovation going forward.” The centre is intended to serve as a complementary facility to the iAero centre in Yeovil and the Somerset Energy Innovation Centre in Bridgwater, which provide a focal point of support for Somerset’s aerospace and nuclear industries respectively. Ms Wyke said: “We have potential partners coming in here who are already working within digital innovation, but right across Somerset that’s something for the future. I was looking at a farm recently where all the cows had digital collars, so everything that happens on that farm is very carefully considered electronically, which drives how the farmer and the wider community responds to changes in nutrition and milking patterns. “Digital innovation is already driving up the agenda in many economic sectors in the county, and that is the only way we are going to be able to compete both nationally and internationally. This centre is not just about having a grand room with various people in it – this is about people’s jobs, their livelihoods and the communities they live in.” While some parts of the building will be available for hot-desking, the council is confident of securing several anchor tenants who will be based permanently within the facility. Ms Wyke said: “I suspect we’ll have our first anchor tenants here within weeks and then there will be others following. “We want to get the right mix of organisations in here – there is eligibility criteria on our website. It won’t just be any company in here – it’s got to be for companies who are about digital innovation. “This is not like any of our rural enterprise centres – this one is a lot more deliberately themed. It’s about thinking forward, making sure we provide the opportunities for local people to get ahead of the game.” Ms Wyke defended the level of council spending on the project, stating that providing these kinds of facilities were essential to attracting businesses away from London and the Home Counties. She said: “To move businesses away from the south east of the country, or from the north, we’ve got to find ways and means to encourage them. “I think of Charlie Bingham in Wells – they were in London and they needed a larger place to move into, addressing their recruitment issues and improving the quality of life of their employees. What you often have to do is to find little incentives to encourage people to think slightly different about the quality of life in Somerset. When I was working for the NHS at Musgrove Park Hospital, we used to work really hard to think about how to attract the highest quality candidates for our consultants, and part of it was about getting them to come and see Somerset and the quality of life it offers.” The innovation centre lies at the northern end of the Firepool regeneration centre, which has been vacant since Taunton’s cattle market closed in 2008. Somerset West and Taunton Council secured planning permission to regenerate numerous elements of the site before its abolition, including the delivery of the access road from the A3087 Trenchard Way, the conversion of the former GWR goods office into commercial space, the delivery of a new permanent boulevard through the site, and raising the entire area to prevent future flooding. The raising of the site has already been completed, with Somerset Council due to begin work on the boulevard later in the spring – which Ms Wyke said would lay the ground for the future residential and commercial redevelopment of the site. She said: “What we’ve managed to do is to find funding to make the site a lot more ready for development. Things have been sorted out in terms of the roads and the utilities, and there is a development plan for the area which has been consulted upon twice. “The next step is to put in the more formal link from the railway station all the way to Vivary Park. This site is under discussion – there are several organisations and parties who are interested.” To express an interest in space within the Firepool centre, or for more information, visit .