M5 major plans as part of 'garden town vision' remain in limbo

Measures intended to speed up the delivery of a business park near the M5 in Somerset will remain in place - despite the lack of physical progress over the last few years. Taunton Deane Borough Council created a local development order (LDO) in March 2018 for the Nexus 25 site, which lies near junction 25 of the M5 on the eastern edge of Taunton.

The site for the park was unlocked by Somerset County Council as part of a £19.2m upgrade of junction 25, with a new roundabout being delivered near the Gateway park and ride site. Since this upgrade was completed in early-2021, not a single brick has been laid at the Nexus 25 site, while other employment zones in the local area - such as Westpark 26 in Wellington - have continued to expand at a steady rate.

Somerset Council has now confirmed the LDO will remain in place for at least another five years to ensure the site can be delivered - though it has not given any clarity on when work might start. LDOs lay out detailed conditions for how each part of a major development site can be used, meaning a developer can deliver individual elements relatively quickly provided they meet these conditions.

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This is considered a less cumbersome approach than conventional planning permissions, where the developer would have to submit a new application (and undertake lengthy public consultations) for every individual parcel of land within a given site. A similar order was put in place for the Gravity enterprise zone in late-2021, allowing the newly-announced occupier Agratas to deliver various elements of its new £4bn gigagactory at a relatively rapid rate.

The Nexus 25 site is intended to be a 'green campus' in line with the Taunton garden town vision, hosting a range of commercial premises for light industry, research and development, distribution warehouses and more general office space, along with the possibility of a hotel, medical centre and other local services. In line with the Taunton local cycling and walking infrastructure plan (LCWIP), any development of the site will have to include an enhancement of existing active travel links with the town centre - including the prospect of a new footbridge over the M5 to link up with the Blackbook Park commercial area.

The council's planning and transport policy sub-committee met in Taunton on Thursday morning (May 23) to review the existing LDO and voted that it should remain in place for at least the next five years. Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, described the site as "a key area for Taunton".

Councillor Dixie Darch, portfolio holder for the environment and climate change, added: "This seems eminently sensible to me - I can't think of any reason to block it." The site is being taken forward by HBD (formerly Henry Boot Developments) in partnership with the Taunton-based firm Summerfield Developments, which has been delivering the Westpark 26 site along with the Killams Park housing development on the southern edge of Taunton.

The project remains listed on HBD's website as being "in development", with the company claiming it will deliver one million square feet of employment space and create up to 3,000 local jobs. Its official website states: "The M4 and M5 corridors are key areas for business and industry, but sites along these prominent motorways don’t come around very often.

The proposed 'green route' between Norton Fitzwarren and the Nexus 25 site
Artist's impression of Nexus 25

"So, when land in the optimal location of Taunton became available, we were very keen to acquire it - and in 2015, we did just that. The LDO has allowed us to plan for a mixed-use site, which means Nexus 25 has more potential than ever to create jobs and revenue.

"At 25 hectares, it’s an opportunity of epic scale for the region. When completed, it will create up to 3,000 jobs.

"And this won’t be just another first-generation business park – this will be a vibrant environment to work in, with well-being of staff having been embedded in plans from the start. Looking ahead, we have the flexibility to follow the market, letting demand determine how we establish Nexus 25."

A signal-controlled crossroads will replace the current Nexus 25 roundabout near Taunton
The proposed 'green route' between Norton Fitzwarren and the Nexus 25 site -Credit:WSP

HBD was approached for a more up-to-date statement by the Local Democracy Reporting Service but did not respond to requests for comment. The delivery of the Nexus 25 site was originally closely tied to the dualling of the A358 between Taunton and Ilminster, with the new roundabout expected to link up with the new dual carriageway as it ran south of the existing villages of Henlade and Thornfalcon.

National Highways (formerly Highways England) teased revised plans for the £328m dualling scheme in May 2022, which included scrapping this roundabout and replacing it with a signal-controlled crossroads. The agency revealed in December 2023 that it would not be submitting formal plans (known as a development consent order) to the Planning Inspectorate in the near-future, with further unconfirmed reports surfacing in early-March that the scheme had been officially cancelled.

A spokesman stated in December 2023 - and reiterated in March - that: "National Highways, with the support from the government, will not be submitting the DCO application for the A358 Taunton to Southfields dualling scheme as planned this year and we are working with the government on the next steps. We will continue to work with impacted landowners and communities to resolve any outstanding queries they may have regarding the current scheme proposal."