THE DEVELOPMENT of the Dorchester prison site has been described as a ‘unique opportunity’ for the town.

Members of Dorchester Town Council’s planning and environment committee have given a resounding backing to the local Civic Society’s vision for the future of the county town jail.

Society chairman Alan Rowley told the committee that a dedicated working group had been looking at the future for the site of the prison, which closed its doors for the final time last year.

He said: “We see this as a unique opportunity for the town.”

Mr Rowley said that the long history of the site included the existence of Roman walls, a 12 century motte and bailey castle and at least two of the county town’s prisons.

He said: “Our view is that whatever happens there needs to be a lot of research into an interpretation of the site’s archaeology and its history as a basis for what happens on this site.

“We believe it should be a high-quality residential-led development but we hope there would be a mix of uses in it.”

Mr Rowley said the Civic Society would also be keen to see affordable housing provided on the site.

He urged West Dorset District Council to be ‘proactive’ in drawing up a framework to inform potential developers interested in the site and said he would be keen to see a masterplan for the overall scheme.

Planning and urban design officer for the district council Jan Farnan said the council was looking at drawing up a ‘concept for development’ but town councillors said they wanted to see something more ‘robust’.

Mr Rowley pointed out that the 18th century gatehouse would have to be retained due to its listed status and he was keen to see the core buildings all retained.

The society also wanted to see a public park included to take advantage of the views from the site.

The committee agreed to write to the district council stating its desire to see a masterplan and also voiced a desire to work with the Civic Society on working up its vision for the site.

Cllr Andy Canning said: “It’s a vital site for the town and it’s far more significant potentially than Stratton House or Charles Street for that matter.”