A COMMITTEE of councillors has backed a set of proposals that could see a further £2million of public money allocated to Dorchester’s Charles Street scheme.
With developers Simons claiming the town centre scheme is not viable in the current economic climate, West Dorset District Council’s efficiency scrutiny committee supported a recommendation that the authority underwrite half of the ‘financial gap to viability’ up to £2.062m should it be necessary.
The move was part of a raft of recommendations that also included the authority securing the maximum amount of parking possible on the Charles Street site and agreeing to changes to the development agreement subject to a planning application being received by July this year.
The council’s director of environment Dr David Evans said that agreeing to underwrite the scheme meant that if the markets improve the authority may end up not paying out any further money.
However, he said it would help give security for the developers and help the scheme move forward, which would in turn bring economic benefits in the form of parking fares, council tax, business rates and new homes bonuses.
With Marks and Spencer and Waitrose also now signed up as anchor stores for the scheme, Dr Evans said moving the scheme forward would ensure their involvement remains.
He said: “What we are suggesting is a way forward which will help this scheme happen in the short and medium term, and for those tenants to be secure in this development, which would really boost the county town.”
Committee members raised concerns over archaeological findings and car parking during the construction phase, but after receiving reassurances from representatives of Simons, they unanimously voted the recommendations through.
There was some controversy as district councillor Alistair Chisholm, who is not a member of the committee, was denied the opportunity to address the meeting.
He said afterwards: “At a time when democratic processes in this council have been bluntly challenged I find that extraordinary.”
Coun Chisholm had spoken to the Echo last week about his concerns over more public funds being allocated to the Charles Street scheme.
He said: “That’s a lot of money.
“What about the best interests of the hard working taxpayer?”
The recommendations will now go before the council’s executive committee on February 11 before a final decision is made at full council on February 25.