On the Covid front it seems that as a result of entering Tier 4 here in Somerset at the end of last year and the subsequent national lockdown, cases across the county have started to level off. Coinciding with this, which is really positive news, the vaccine roll-out here has ramped up with the opening of a large vaccination centre at Taunton Racecourse this week and three more GP-led community vaccination sites joining the existing ten. It is thanks to the phenomenal support of the health and care services plus hundreds of volunteers that this vaccination programme is proceeding at pace. I appreciate that people are anxious regarding their vaccination date but please do wait until the NHS contacts you as they have a strict order of priority.
Understandably this continues be a difficult period for many of our local businesses which was clearly highlighted in my recent zoom catch up with the Taunton Chamber of Commerce. I shall be flagging the issue of VAT for the hospitality trade and tenancy agreements with Treasury Ministers and MHCLG colleagues with a view to smoothing the route to economic recovery.
The £14m I helped secure from the Future Highstreets Fund will play a key role in aiding recovery and I look forward to working closely with the Leader of the local council on how this money is allocated which includes kickstarting the development of Firepool, and potentially also contributing to finalising the Coal Orchard development. I have also had commitment that work will be underway with local businesses utilising a £200,000 grant to stimulate the rest of the town; I am also pleased my calls for due recognition to be given to Taunton’s Garden Town status in all future developments with recognition of the accompanying design guide. This was something I and others have worked hard for and it needs to be adhered to.
I have also had constructive meetings with Natural England, Wessex Water, the local authorities and a range of local businesses to help unlock the planning permissions process which is currently stalled owing to the high levels of phosphates in the Somerset Levels and Moors. Gradual progress is being made.