Protesters gathered outside the full meeting of the council yesterday afternoon and the heated atmosphere continued inside as proceedings were interrupted by several outbursts from members of the public.
The council chamber was so packed with those concerned about the scheme that a feed had to be relayed to a separate room to accommodate the crowd.
Councillors were considering the latest proposals put forward by developers Simons to amend phase two of the Charles Street scheme as they claimed it was currently unviable.
The amendments included the council funding up to £2million of preparatory works including relocating the Dorchester Community Church.
Other changes include replacing the hotel in the original plans for the scheme with 24 apartments and scrapping the lower deck of basement car Parking with additional spaces provided through a single deck at the Fairfield Market car park instead.
Members were warned that if the council did not support the plans, key investors could walk away from the scheme which would endanger the future of the development.
Council leader Robert Gould said: “We have reached a crucial point in this long standing priority of the council.
“We have before us a very stark and clear choice, it’s about building confidence in the scheme and you can’t have half measures of confidence.
“We have never been so close to success in the regeneration of Dorchester town centre.
“We are within striking distance of achieving a massive investment to the local economy.”
Members voted down a number of proposed amendments from Liberal Democrat councillors to delay a decision for scrutiny and consultation on the plans. Councillor Robin Legg said he had concerns that if the council supports Simons on this occasion there is no guarantee that the developer will not come back for more funding in the future if the scheme is still not viable.
He said: “I think there is a very great danger of this authority effectively writing a blank cheque to Simons.”
Independent councillor Alistair Chisholm also warned that the council itself admitted that even after it had funded the £2million of preparatory works there was no guarantee the development would go ahead.
He said: “This huge sum of West Dorset District Council taxpayers’ money will still not guarantee that a single brick is built.”
After more than two hours of debate, a vote was taken and the council’s Conservative majority helped ensure the recommendations were passed.
Market Traders Voice Concerns On Parking Plans
TRADERS at Dorchester’s market have expressed concerns about the major impact putting a single deck car park at the Fairfield site to compensate for removing some of the underground parking at Charles Street.
Robert Long, of Long’s fruit and veg, said: “It will kill the market if they put another storey on Fairfield. The whole time they are building it, it will put people off coming, and once the customers have gone, they won’t come back.”
Mandy Mooney, of Basket and Blooms, said: “That would be it for us. Our pitches are on Fairfield car park, so where are we supposed to go? The council hasn’t even told us about this idea. It would close us.”
David Holdway, of Dorset Down Mushrooms, said: “They really have got to do something, so if there was an extra storey, but there was still enough room to hold the market, it could be a positive thing.”