An ambitious and potentially exciting project to develop a ‘House of Somerset’ on land on Foxmoor Business Park off the M5 was presented to Wellington Town Council and members of the public at Wellington School’s Examination Hall on Tuesday 6 November.
The concept of House of Somerset is to create a venue close to the M5 in which products – including food and drink – from around the county can be displayed, where local walking and cycling trails can be promoted and goods from local industries showcased.
The project – 4 years in the making – was outlined by House of Somerset Directors Nigel Muers-Raby, Joe Beauchamp, Douglas Cordeaux and Alison Whittingham. Nigel Muers-Raby, Chief Executive of MR Marketing based in Taunton, has a long experience of business in Somerset; Douglas Cordeaux is Managing Director of Fox Brothers and Co, which includes its retail arm, The Merchant Fox, at Tonedale Mill, Wellington. Joe Beauchamp is a graphic designer based in Taunton and Alison Whittingham is a solicitor.
Nigel Muers-Raby referred to Somerset as ‘the breadbasket of the UK’, a county with a long history of fine food production and offering leisure activities for people from around the country and further afield. In choosing the site for the project he referred to its location as geographically and strategically important, in close proximity to the M5, ‘the corridor to and from the south west through which 96.8 million people pass each year and which attracts 21.2 million visitors.’
He said, “The House of Somerset will sit in an ideal location. It will have a massive ‘produce hall’ and encourage local producers, a centre for independent retailers and attract community involvement and engagement.” The plan includes a visitors’ centre which explores the history of the county and will have environmentally friendly credentials. Discussions are already taking place with Tesla for an e charge station on site as an optimum point for cars travelling from London to Devon and Cornwall. The proposal envisages the creation of 200 full and part time jobs.
The whole project is to be privately funded at an estimated cost of £10 million and aims to be ‘up and running in 2 to 3 years’; the Foxmoor Business Park owner is in ‘active engagement’ with the project.
Concerns raised by members of the Town Council and the public at the meeting included the issue of the designated land lying on a flood plain, highway safety on a busy access route, the importance of signage and promotion to attract travellers off the M5 and the maintenance of the roundabout off the motorway slip roads. Other issues discussed were the commercial viability of the project, the involvement of the National Trust in the creation of the visitors’ centre and the potential for competition with independent retailers in the town and local area, all of which were acknowledged.
To conclude, Nigel Muers-Raby noted that the county has ‘8.5 thousand food and drink producers’ and a rich heritage to celebrate – including the potential to ‘reawaken a great cloth town – with a fantastic story to tell.’ He concluded, “We passionately believe in this unique County and part of the vision of the House of Somerset will be to engage with local charities and authorities to ensure that local communities and organisations can benefit through a charitable outreach.”