WORK to regenerate part of Taunton’s riverside has been delayed by archaeological work, the council has admitted, meaning it is technically in breach of its own planning conditions.

Taunton Deane Borough Council secured planning permission in September 2018 to regenerate the Coal Orchard site on the River Tone, building new flats, retail units, restaurants and a gym.

Work to demolish the former St James Street swimming pool was completed before Christmas, with a contractor for the replacement buildings due to have been appointed in January.

However, the project is now behind schedule as a result of further archaeological surveys, which won’t conclude until the end of February – meaning the council is technically in breach of its own planning conditions.

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Martin Pakes – who organised a petition against the plans, signed by more than 1,100 people – raised the issue at a meeting of the council’s planning committee on Wednesday evening (February 6).

He said he had asked about the delays using the Freedom of Information Act, and had been informed it was due to “archaeological dig requirements which won’t be completed until the end of February.”

He added: “The council must have known that an archaeological dig would have been needed.

“Is the council now in breach of the conditions, and what will be done about it? I’m very concerned about having a huge gap site near St James Street.”

Mr Pakes said he feared the empty space would be used as a “contractors’ yard” throughout the construction period, and sought assurance that the former pool site would be redeveloped during the first phase of the work.

His Freedom of Information request on the timing and content of the five phases of construction was refused because the council deemed the information to be “commercially sensitive”.

Under the planning approval, the council should have appointed a contractor for the scheme within one month of the pool demolition ending, in order to “ensure no adverse long-term impact on the conservation area”.

Planning officer Bryn Kitching admitted this condition had been breached, and said the council was working hard to move the project forward.

He told the committee: “Clearly we do have a condition which is in breach. It’s been raised with us, we need to address it.

“We want to make sure we have that archaeological information before any development takes place on site.”

A council spokesman added on Friday (February 8) that a contractor had now been appointed – though they will not be publicly named for another two weeks.

They said: “Although there has been a slight delay in selecting and appointing a contractor, which has led to a technical breach of the planning condition (that required the contact to be let for the construction within one month of the demolition of the swimming pool), a contractor has now been selected following a rigorous tender process.

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“Some of the delays were down to the need to undertake the necessary archaeological and other ground investigation works that could not take place until after the swimming pool had been demolished.

“We wanted to co-ordinate all these works at the same time in order to reduce the disruption to the public and restrictions on car parking. We are working to ensure we mitigate as much risk from the project as possible prior to starting on a challenging site.

“Discussions are underway to consider the most efficient and least disruptive construction programme, bearing in mind health and safety for both current residents in the area and also for those who will be living and working in the new development as phases are completed.

“Although we have selected a contractor, we are not able to disclose the name for a couple of weeks due to regulatory procedures.”