PLANS to allocate a further £2million of public funds to Dorchester’s Charles Street scheme have been approved in what one councillor described as ‘a sad day’ for the town.
At a meeting of West Dorset District Council this afternoon, members have voted in favour of a series of recommendations that include underwriting developer Simons to the tune of £2.062m.
The proposals were put before the council after the developers of the town centre site claimed that the scheme is unviable in its current format and asked the council to underwrite the ‘financial gap to viability’.
The approval came despite strong criticism from several councillors, including Alistair Chisholm.
He said that it was unfair on other developers in the town that Simons was benefiting from public funds when they had been forced to seek private funding.
Coun Chisholm said: “I object on behalf of the people who elected me to yet more millions of precious public money being put into the hands of a private developer.
“Other developments have taken place purely on the back of private money, this development should be done in exactly the same way.
“I think this is a sad day.”
Coun Tim Harries asked: “Why are the local council tax payers having to underwrite the financial gap to viability?”
Coun Robin Legg added: “It is still not viable and I would pull the plug on it now because that is the rational thing to do.”
The move also came under fire from councillors and members of the public who were concerned about the potential for any affordable housing element to be withdrawn from the scheme.
Coun Stella Jones said: “As well as shops Dorchester also needs affordable housing.
“We should be setting an example to other developers in West Dorset.”
Council leader Robert Gould said that the viability of including affordable housing would be assessed during the planning application process.
A total of 31 councillors voted to underwrite the scheme, with three against and six abstentions.
Other recommendations backed by members included requiring 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.