DORCHESTER Civic Society has stressed the fantastic opportunity presented by the Dorchester prison site after it was confirmed that the county town jail had gone up for sale.

Chairman of the society Alan Rowley gave a presentation to Dorchester Town Council earlier in the month outlining his group’s vision for the site.

He said the society and town council had both written to West Dorset District Council with a view to meeting to discuss a masterplan to guide development on the site.

Mr Rowley said that the site being on the market highlighted the need for this to be done sooner rather than later.

He said: “Now is the time for some action.

“We want to see the site well used and there needs to be a clear development framework for the prison so whoever buys it knows where they stand.”

Mr Rowley said he did not want to see a similar situation to the former district council office campus of Stratton House, which was currently being developed through a series of separate planning applications without an overall masterplan for the whole site.

Mr Rowley has said his society wants to see a high-quality residential development on the site with a mixture of other uses and was keen to see affordable housing provided on site.

He said the society was keen to see a scheme that would restore vibrancy to the area but also retain some of the major prison features, including the 18th-century gatehouse that would have to be retained due to its listed status.

Other ideas put forward by the society included a park to take advantage of the views from the site. Chairman of Dorchester and District Labour Party Barry Thompson also stressed the importance of providing affordable housing on the site.

He said: “We have had no affordable housing at Charles Street, none as yet on the Stratton House site and it would be ideal to have some for local Dorchester people on the prison site.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The former HMP Dorchester site is currently for sale and we are liaising with a number of organisations about the future use of the site, including the local authority and English Heritage.

“We will consider appropriate offers and will always seek to obtain best value for taxpayers.”