WORK is set to get underway on the major plans to transform Watchet's East Quay.

This week The Onion Collective CIC announced that a lease for a portion of land on Watchet's East Quay has now been signed with Somerset West & Taunton Council, meaning that the building work can commence imminently.

Funding for the project was awarded in March this year and full planning permission was awarded in 2018.

In the coming weeks, Onion Collective will employ a construction contractor, with the intention that they will start on site within the next two months.

The containers currently occupying the site are due to be removed on Tuesday, October 15, and from that point the area, approximately one third of the whole area of East Quay, will become a construction site.

The East Quay development was conceived and designed closely with local people over a four-year consultation process, including many whole town workshops and wider surveys, meaning that the design of the building changed repeatedly according to the needs and desires of local people. The Onion Collective say the development will be a place of enterprise, creativity and activity intended to bring visitors, create jobs and provide opportunities for young people.

It will contain 14 workspaces/maker studios, a double storey gallery, a print room, a paper mill run by Two Rivers Paper and a rock and fossil preparation lab run by Geckoella, an education space, a café and five self-catering accommodation pods, with outdoor events space in the courtyard.

It will run a programme of events, exhibitions and activities inside and outside for visitors, locals and school groups alike, creating vibrancy, buzz and fun on the quayside all year round.

It will deliver 37 new jobs to the area, including five apprenticeships; it will safeguard 17 jobs and provide a further 70 in temporary construction jobs.

It is hoped the development will bring an estimated £6.7 million in additional tourism spend to the area with an associated 109 indirect jobs.

Onion Collective Director Naomi Griffith said: “Signing the lease with Somerset West and Taunton Council was the last remaining piece of the puzzle and means we can now go forward and start the build.

"After six years of planning out a thousand details and overcoming any number of seemingly impossible obstacles, this feels tremendously exciting.

"It would not have been possible without the support and energy of local people who have advised, advocated and shared their knowledge with us along the way.

"We are enormously grateful and humbled by the positivity, support and goodwill we have received.

"A heartfelt thank you to all those who have taken part in the process along the way. We can’t wait to see the build complete and open the doors in early summer 2021.”

Cllr Marcus Kravis, executive member for Economic Development at SWT, said: “The East Quay development is a truly transformative project which will put Watchet on the map as a destination that supports tourism, employment, skills development, and growth.

"Local people have been central to the development of the plans including the purpose of the buildings and aesthetics of the design. I am delighted that work can now begin and am confident that this project will act as a catalyst for the economic recovery of the whole area.”

The Onion Collective say they are aware that a construction site in the middle of the town may pose some concern to residents and wish to reassure local people that every effort is being made to minimise any inconvenience.

Separately to this development the Council is continuing to explore what works might be needed to the harbour wall along the edge of the East Quay.

Decisions have not yet been made as to the timing and extent of the works needed to this area of the quayside.

It is the intention of all parties that access along this route for the marina operator will be maintained and the Onion Collective will continue to liaise with the Council to ensure the best possible access throughout the build.

Director Jessica Prendergrast says: “We understand why people are unsure about the wall situation and worried that it will affect our East Quay development and we’re grateful for the concern.

"But we are working closely with the Council to make sure that works needed can be timetabled in a way that doesn’t threaten our funding.

"There’s a lot of misinformation out there so we always ask anyone who wants to find out to just drop us a line or pop in and see us.

"We’re excited to get started."

The scheme has been designed by award-winning architect Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio, alongside executive architects Ellis Williams Architects.