WEST DORSET MP Oliver Letwin hailed the move to open up Dorchester prison’s car park to businesses and local residents as a victory for common sense.

The Dorchester BID (Business Improvement District) ann-ounced this week that it had successfully negotiated the temporary use of the former county town jail’s car park with the Ministry of Justice.

Project director for the BID Phil Gordon said that early interest in the scheme had been ‘phenomenal’.

The car park will be operated on a dual use basis with anyone working in the town able to buy business permits allowing them to use the car park between 8.30am and 6pm.

Residents who live close to the prison site will also be able to apply for free overnight permits that are valid from 6pm to 8.30am.

Mr Letwin, who was involved in the negotiations between the BID and the Ministry of Justice, said he welcomed the news that an agreement had been reached to make use of the site while a buyer is sought for the prison, which closed its doors for the final time in October last year.

He said: “It’s an amazing case of common sense breaking out. I never thought it was going to be possible to persuade anyone to let the car park be used while the prison sale process was underway but through Phil’s persistence we have got there.”

Mr Gordon said that after the scheme was announced on Wednesday evening he spent much of yesterday going through emails from residents, employees in the town and business owners in Dorchester who were interested in taking up permits.

He said the scheme would help free up more spaces in the town centre car parks to make it easier for people to park when they come in to Dorchester to visit its shops and businesses.

Mr Gordon said: “There are going to be 40 extra spaces in town for visitors to the town, shoppers and customers who would otherwise be circling round looking for spaces.”

Scott Duncan from Medusa said that he felt making use of the car park would address car parking issues in the town. He said: “This is great to have these extra spaces, it’s going to alleviate some of the problems we have got.”

Mr Gordon said that although there had been a huge amount of interest there were still permits available, particularly on the residential side, and urged anyone interested to email the Dorchester BID at info@dorchesterdorset.