PLANS to build a hotel with £16 million of public money on the Firepool site have been deferred after a petition against the plans sparked a lively debate.

During a heated debate at TDBC's full council meeting on Tuesday (July 10) Taunton's councillors voted to defer the plans to invest in the hotel at the south-eastern corner of the site after Cllr Habib Farhabi put forward a recommendation to halt the plans so local businesses can be consulted about the proposal.

It was a close vote as 21 councillors voted in favour of Cllr Farhabi's recommendation while 19 voted against it.

Councillor Farhabi, said: "I had serious concerns about the hotel.

"There is no way to justify £16 million, there is a real risk the millions of pounds of taxpayers money the council invests will facilitate an external operator to make money.

"Businesses need a level playing field. Create jobs and hotels will come and invest in our county town.

"I recommend that we defer the decision to build the hotel in Firepool and consult businesses in Taunton to ensure maximum return on our investment."

The decision came after Taunton hotelier, Kit Chapman, gave the council a petition opposing plans for homes, shops, pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities on the former Firepool livestock market, along with a £16 million, 120-room, council-funded hotel leased to an operator.

Scott Berry from Berry's Coaches and Mr Chapman's son, Nick Chapman, spoke at the meeting on behalf of Taunton business owners and said they think investing in the hotel is 'risky'.

Mr Berry said: "In business you have to take risks but the risk of this investment does not stack up.

"This investment could leave the council with a long debt which would fall at the door of taxpayers.

"We need to look at something that benefits Taunton. It could be a flexible space for a conference centre or used as a tourist attraction."

But Cllr John Williams, leader of TDBC, defended the plans and said the business case for the hotel has been subject to 'rigorous scrutiny' and the council is 'open to suggestions' for a more 'imaginative and innovative' scheme for the site.

"Independent research shows a growing need for a hotel in Taunton," Cllr Williams said.

"There is a market that Taunton can tap into. The international hotelier that we are working with will help us reach new heights.

"To step back on Firepool now will be a retrograde view.

"Get on with it, get on with it now."

A number of councillors spoke in favour of the petition and said they feel the council's investment would be better used to create a music venue as they think it would bring more visitors into Taunton.

Councillor Eddie Gaines, said: "The idea of putting a hotel at Firepool was out of the blue.

"As far as I know people don't come to stay in a hotel to go shopping, they stay because they have a reason.

"A good idea would be to create a music venue as it would put Taunton on the map.

"At the moment people have to go to Torquay or Plymouth or Bristol to watch music. People here will make good use of this venue."