The council’s executive committee backed plans to allocate further public funds to developer Simons.
With the developer claiming the second phase of the town centre scheme is not viable in its present state, the council has been asked to underwrite half of the ‘financial gap to viability’ up to £2.062m should it be necessary.
A number of concerns were raised by councillors who were not members of the executive committee, particularly on suggestions that the scheme’s viability could result in the affordable housing element being withdrawn.
Councillor Ros Kayes asked what kind of example it would set if the council was not able to provide affordable housing on its own land.
She said: “What sort of message is that sending to developers in West Dorset.”
The council’s director for environment Dr David Evans said that any affordable housing allocation would be addressed by the development control committee when it comes to consider any planning application, with Simons required to bring forward an application by the end of July.
Dr Evans added that if it was decided that the scheme was not viable with affordable housing the council could always make a further contribution or apply for grant funding to provide it.
Executive committee member Mary Penfold said it was important progress was now made on the scheme.
She said: “I have been here a long time and we are nearer now than we have been for many years and I think we should prepare to go forward with confidence.”
Council leader Robert Gould added: “I think we have got to a more advanced point than this scheme has ever been at before and we are actually within a realistic prospect of bringing it to fruition after all these years of effort.”
He added that the prizes were ‘enormous for the town’ in terms of job creation and investment and said it was now important to ensure that the scheme was brought forward as quickly as possible.
Coun Gould said: “We need to make sure we now drive forward, we need to build confidence and we need to see action.”
A recommendation was added to require Simons to carry out further consultation before its planning application is submitted for the scheme, while the council is also seeking to achieve the maximum number of parking spaces on the site of around 470.
The proposals will now go before full council on Tuesday, February 25.
After the meeting Coun Kayes issued a statement further stressing the need to secure affordable housing in the Charles Street scheme and lambasted the council’s handling of the whole project.
She said: “We should not roll over simply because the developer says affordable housing is not viable when there are 1406 people on the waiting list for one-bedroom flats in Dorchester.”
Coun Kayes added: “We warned when the initial proposals were agreed by council that Simons would come back again and again for money for this scheme because of the recession.
“This project has been riddled with poor management from the start.
“This scheme is squeezing the council tax payers of West Dorset dry.”