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19 to 26 North Street

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Consultation about to begin on final design proposals, in case Debenhams closes

Consultation on final design proposals will begin on Thursday 24 September, when the most recent work will be published on the consultation website for public feedback. In addition, there will be a webinar on Tuesday 29 September, 6pm to 7pm to give members of the public the opportunity to ask questions directly. Click here to register.

Although the design and consultation process is now moving into its final phase, there is still no knowledge of Debenhams future plans for the store and hope remains that Debenhams will survive current difficulties. The best case for everyone is for Debenhams to continue trading in Taunton on an economically viable basis for both Debenhams and the current owners. However, the need for a contingency plan remains, to limit the damage in case this is not possible.

Over the last year the Crossmark Team have been working on such a plan, and the first stage of public consultation began in May.

Mark Lewis, Crossmark, said, ‘It was evident early on that there was little demand for retail premises of any size nationally and effectively no demand at all for stores of this size. Unfortunately, since we began the process, the difficulties already facing town centres across the country have been made even worse by the pandemic, making recovery planning even more urgent. From the outset, we also recognised the need for a contingency plan that is right for Taunton; one that is resilient in the face of the many changes we’re all facing; one that contributes to the economic health of North Street; and one that is well designed and contributes to the streetscape. This is why we started consultation early and adopted a staged approach. We really appreciate all the feedback we have received to date and we’re look forward to presenting our final design proposals.’

One change that has been made in response to the consultation is that the application will now be for unrestricted age use apartments rather than age restricted.

The final consultation will focus on the design of the building and the reasons for the design decisions taken. In addition to public feedback, designs have been shaped by emerging local policy (including the Taunton Garden Town Vision and the Draft Design Guide), peer and formal design reviews, feedback from Statutory Consultees (including Highways, English Heritage, and the Environment Agency) and discussions with the Local Planning Authority.

Mark AlkerStone from AWW Architects commented, ‘We’re delighted to be able to present our proposed designs for public feedback. The site is technically challenging, and it’s been a lengthy process, but we wanted to ensure that we found a design solution that made a real contribution to the town centre. Working with feedback from a range of consultees has been very helpful and we’re looking forward to hearing what people think’.

Further information about the design process to date, including site analyses, design evolution and approach to materials remains available on the consultation website at www.19to26northstreet.co.uk/overview.

Posted on 21st September 2020

by Alison Bancroft

A first look at evolving designs for the Debenhams site, if Debenhams closes

Work is continuing on contingency plans in case Debenhams closes, and designs in development for a proposed new building will be presented at a public webinar on Tuesday 18 August, 6pm to 8pm. Registration is via the consultation website at www.19to26northstreet.co.uk or direct via https://bit.ly/2Xuo7vm .

Following the webinar, the designs will be published on the consultation website at www.19to26northstreet.co.uk and feedback is welcomed.

Mark Lewis, Crossmark, said, ‘We’re very pleased to be presenting the evolving designs for public feedback. I should emphasise that these are not the final designs, but rather a step along the way and we look forward to hearing people’s views on the work that has been done to date. Of course, all the work we are doing comes with a very important caveat, these are contingency plans and we realise they may never be needed. However, if they are, we want to ensure that we can deliver the best possible alternative for this important location and we’re delighted to be working with AWW, who have a proven track record of excellence.’

Project architects, AWW are an award-winning practice based in Bristol, London and Plymouth. Their designs for the Somerset Energy Innovation Hub delivered in partnership with Willmott Dixon, Somerset County Council, Mott MacDonald and BREEAM Official have recently been shortlisted for a Constructing Excellence South West Award for Building of the Year and they actively promote a transparent, iterative and collaborative design process.

Mark AlkerStone, AWW, said, ‘It’s important to show designs and ideas that are still evolving. We believe that it’s crucial to collaborate with as many interested people as possible to support us in the design journey and to ensure that they participate in the future of their community. At the start of the consultation process in May, we shared our analysis of the site and the local environment, and we recently published further information on how our designs are evolving and our proposed approach to materials. During the webinar we’ll be explaining how we have brought all of this work together, to inform and guide how the building will look. Our design work is still in progress, but we are at the stage where we’ve begun to invite engagement in the designs, and we’ll talk a little about the directions we are taking in the webinar.’

Further information about AWW’s site analysis, design evolution and approach to materials is still available on the consultation website at www.19to26northstreet.co.uk .

Kara de los Reyes, AWW, added, ‘When you’re working intensely on a project, it’s easy to get immersed, which is why it’s so important to. share our ideas and listen to feedback. It’s an integral part of our process. We hold regular internal peer assessments & reviews that provide our colleagues with the opportunity to challenge our designs as they progress, and we’ve just held our first external Design Panel Review. This is where we present our designs to an independent panel of Architects and other Design Professionals and seek their views. We’re now sharing our work publicly and we’re really looking forward to hearing what people in Taunton think.’

The Crossmark Team will also be talking about how they are responding to the consultation feedback they have already received, and members of the public will have the opportunity to ask questions directly.

Posted on 17th August 2020

by Alison Bancroft

Contingency plans continuing in case Debenhams closes

With recent news that Debenhams is now up for sale, the future of local shops and department stores continues to be uncertain and contingency plans are continuing in case Debenhams close their Taunton store.

Mark Lewis, Crossmark said, ‘Our ongoing hope is that Debenhams will be able to resolve their ongoing difficulties, possibly under new ownership, as the best outcome for all concerned is for Debenhams to continue to trade successfully in Taunton. However, we are also very aware of the damage that will be caused if they leave without contingency plans in place. A large empty store in this location would not only affect the owner of the building, but also exacerbate the challenges being faced by other retailers in the town centre. We are doing our best to ensure that this does not happen, and we are now moving to the second stage of our public consultation process.”

Stage One Consultation Feedback

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.

The hope that the ground floor could become a space for small independents and market style uses was also expressed by a number of respondents and, while this will depend on there being suitable occupier(s), the application will be adopting a flexible approach that would allow for this to be one of the possibilities.

Stage Two Consultation now underway

Work has been continuing with a series of technical studies and investigations, and the Project Team have been focussing on a number of key priorities, including:

  • Design evolution, looking at ways to recognise important heritage and townscape constraints, while maximising the opportunities offered.
  • Identifying a materials palette that complements local character
  • Improving connections with the River and North Street
  • Improving external space along the river and increasing biodiversity
  • Developing a range of measures to support reduced car parking at this highly accessible and sustainable location.
  • Further information about the design development and consultation process is available on this website and there is the opportunity to sign up to receive news updates as the project progresses (at the top right of the News page).

    In addition, members of the Project Team will be presenting proposals via a public webinar on Tuesday 18 August, 6pm to 8pm, which will give members of the public the opportunity to ask questions directly. Click here to register .

    Posted on 6th August 2020

    by Alison Bancroft

    Could the ground floor be used for small independent businesses and potentially an indoor market?

    Encouraging lively ground floor uses that contribute to the vitality of the town centre is a priority, and we asked what ground floor uses you would like to see.

    To date, from the options provided, ‘Leisure uses’ and ‘Food and beverage’ have received the most votes (7 each) with ‘Gallery or showrooms’ and ‘Community use’ coming second (5 votes each). ‘Clinic/health care’, ‘Office/coworking’ and ‘Retail’ are currently joint third (4 votes each) and ‘Professional services’ is last (2 votes). (There is still plenty of time to add your views.)

    Many of the comments made suggested that the ground floor could be used by small independent businesses and/or a quality indoor market with a focus on food, and that such use could complement existing farmer’s markets, farm shops and food festivals. A number of examples were cited, including: Boxpark (in Wembley, Croydon and Shoreditch), the Corn Exchange/St Nicholas Market (Bristol), The Artisan Food Hall (Hull), and Darts Farm (Exeter). A town centre outlet for Rumwell Farm Shop was suggested.

    Community uses were also suggested, with ideas for a public art gallery, an art centre with a small performance space, co-working space, spaces for hire, a drop-in centre for use by various groups and organisations on different days, and a multi-purpose sports area.

    Ben Read, Black Box Planning, commented ‘Our proposals will adopt a flexible approach to active ground floor use to help preserve a vital and viable town centre. This will make it possible for there to be a range of appropriate uses in a mix of size formats.’

    However, the final use of the space will not be determined by Crossmark.

    Kieran Mitchell, Crossmark, said ‘To make it possible for this to be a multi-use space, there would need to be a tenant who wanted take the financial responsibility for the main lease and manage the space. This tenant would then sub-let spaces to the traders. They would need proof of track record and need to be financially robust to justify the set-up costs, such as fit out. As with all occupiers, this means they would need evidence of their ability to pay the rent and rates’.

    Should Debenhams cease trading in Taunton, which we continue to hope will not be the case, Crossmark are happy to consider the possibility of a multi-use trial on a Meanwhile Use basis. This would give a potential occupier the opportunity to test the idea at minimal risk in the period between Debenhams closing and redevelopment beginning.

    The project team are continuing to work on scheme designs, and we hope to be in a position to announce the publication of these soon. This will signal the start of Stage Two consultation, at which point we will be hold a public webinar. To be kept informed, and if you haven’t already, please do sign up for news updates (at the top right-hand side of this page).

    Posted on 19th June 2020

    by Alison Bancroft

    Why Retirement Apartments?

    Thank you to all have responded to consultation materials over the last couple of weeks. This update is not a final summary and, if you haven’t already, there is still plenty of time to have your say. However, much of the feedback received to date has centred around two key issues:

  • Why retirement apartments, why not just apartments?
  • The desire to see opportunities for small independent businesses on the ground floor and potentially an indoor market.
  • Issues relating to car parking have also been raised, although views varied as to whether parking provision should be plentiful or limited.

    Comments on other sites, including press and social media, have mirrored feedback received on the consultation site and the project team have been discussing ways in which views expressed can be taken into account.

    In this news update, we want to report back on the first of these issues. Why retirement apartments and not just apartments?

    Retirement apartment vs apartments

    Crossmark, as Development Managers, are happy to consider all potential uses for the site and initial studies looked at a wide range of options. However, any option taken forward needs to be deliverable.

    This means Crossmark needs to balance a number of factors including planning policy, the likelihood that appropriate occupiers can be found for the identified use, and the value of the final development on the open market. Without a financially viable solution, commercial investment to build the development would not be available and, unless other funding approaches could be found (for example, Government backing), the project would not be deliverable.

    Projected population growth in Taunton shows a significant increase in the number of people of retirement age. In addition, in terms of financial viability, retirement apartments sell for more than apartments that are not age restricted and the additional value can be the difference between a project that is deliverable and one that is not. However, a more immediate consideration relates to planning policy around parking numbers.

    Ben Read, Black Box Planning said “In planning terms, promoting sustainable travel is a key objective and encouraging significantly less parking is generally acceptable in accessible locations like town centres and for age-restricted apartment schemes. Given the town centre location, and the technical constraints on site, we are looking carefully at the advantages of reduced parking provision and subject to these being acceptable to the Planning Authority and Somerset Highways it may be possible to move away from an age-restricted scheme”

    The project and design team are currently working through the range of considerations associated with an unrestricted use apartment scheme and hope to be in a position to take this option forward in line with feedback received.

    Mark Lewis, Crossmark, commented “We don’t know that this will be possible, as we have yet to discuss all the issues involved with the relevant authorities, but we are beginning the process. We appreciate that there are many factors that will need to be balanced, and that reducing parking will be welcomed by some and strongly opposed by others. However, we appreciate feedback received to date and look forward to continuing the dialogue”

    Our next news update will focus on some of the considerations associated with maintaining flexibility for small independent businesses and market style uses on the ground floor.

    Posted on 12th June 2020

    by Alison Bancroft

    Contingency plans in progress in case Debenhams closes

    The difficulties Debenhams has been facing nationally have been making headline news recently. In common with many other retailers, changes in shopping patterns have created serious challenges and the current lockdown is only making things more difficult.

    The Debenhams store in Taunton has been a major landmark for decades. It has once again survived the national round of closures and it is expected to open post-lockdown. However, whilst no-one wants it to close, the scale of the difficulties it is facing have inevitably raised concerns about the possibility of a large empty store at this key location. Having a contingency plan in place is seen as a priority for Taunton and the continued health of the high street.

    In the current economic climate, there is little demand for retail premises of this size, and it is essential that any plans on how to recover from a closure take this into account. This means redevelopment options need to be considered and a contingency planning application is currently being prepared by Crossmark and their design team on behalf of the landlord.

    Mark Lewis, Crossmark said, 'We are very aware of the sensitivities surrounding a contingency plan of this nature. Debenhams is a major employer in Taunton, and the best possible outcome for all concerned is for their Taunton store to continue to trade successfully when the lockdown ends. Unfortunately, store closures can happen quite quickly, and the planning process can be lengthy. To minimise potential impact, we have begun the process early, to give time to develop a positive vision for this important site should redevelopment be necessary and thereby to bring this large town centre site back into active use as soon as possible'.

    Having looked at a number of options for the re-use of the site, Crossmark are proposing mixed-use development that enables a variety of commercial uses to be retained on the ground floor and provides active retirement living for over 55s on the upper floors. Importantly, it is considered that this approach would be able to secure the necessary investment to ensure delivery.

    Discussions have begun with Somerset West and Taunton Council as the Local Planning Authority, and an overview of work to date will be publicly available online from 28th May at www.19to26northstreet.co.uk. Feedback is welcomed.

    Alison Bancroft, Redport said, ‘With public gatherings unlikely for the foreseeable future, we’ve been looking at how we can best consult online. We’re very happy to be working with Commonplace, an award-winning community engagement platform, and we are beginning the consultation at an early stage to give plenty of time for people to become aware of these proposals and respond. As designs develop, we will also be holding public webinars to present proposals and give people a chance to ask questions. We would welcome help getting the message out to the maximum number of people. An A4 printable poster and an info-graphic that can be shared on social media can be downloaded from the Commonplace website’.

    Further information about the design development and consultation process is also available at www.19to26northstreet.co.uk.

    Posted on 12th May 2020

    by Alison Bancroft