UP to £2million of taxpayers’ money may have to be spent on Dorchester’s controversial Charles Street development if it is to go ahead.

West Dorset District Council faces a choice of sticking with the current scheme, which it admits is not viable in the current economic climate, or amending the details of phase two of the development at considerable cost.

The amended scheme proposed by Developers’ Simons would see the planned hotel scrapped in favour of 24 apartments and the basement car park axed while a single-deck facility was built on the Fairfield market site instead.

The report warns if the council does not take action the two anchor tenants lined up for the scheme, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer, could withdraw.

The first phase of the scheme has already caused widespread anger as the council voted to build its new headquarters and a new library on the site.

The report also recommends that preparatory works costing up to £2million are funded by the council. This includes relocating Dorchester Family Church from Acland Road to a new home in Trinity Street.

And despite calls for wider public involvement, the district council will not hold a public consultation before the decision is made.

Instead, plans will be put on display at a venue to be confirmed, with staff on hand to answer questions.

In a report, council officers said that no public funds would be needed if the current development is supported by councillors, but this may lead to the loss of businesses who have already signed up to the scheme.

The report said: “The council has the choice of either waiting for the economy to improve, or accepting that changes be made to the scheme. “Waiting for the economy to improve could lead to the loss of key anchor tenants and it is therefore suggested that accepting changes to the scheme is the best way of achieving a development and securing over 600 jobs.”

The £2million would come from the corporate priorities reserve fund, it is suggested.

Changes proposed by developers Simons include not having a hotel, but instead building 24 market flats.

The lower basement car park should also be scrapped, it has been suggested, and replaced with a deck of car parking at Fairfield car park, which would meet the required total of 484 spaces. Within the changes, the district council have also been asked to agree to retain short stay parking at Wollaston Fields for 25 years.

The report states that to move the project forward the Council could take forward some preparatory work at a cost of £2 million.

That includes:- n Relocating the Dorchester Community Church from Acland Road to Trinity Street to a new church building provided by the Council and acquiring the Church’s freehold interest by means of a land swap.

  •  Securing the pedestrian access and landing rights though the Tudor and Hardye arcades.
  •  Securing other access rights including making the appropriate traffic regulation orders.
  •  Securing rights of light and other legal costs.

West Dorset District Council Technical Services Manager Steve Woollard said: “The council has worked hard to achieve a town centre development on the Charles Street site for some 30 years. The current proposals which have planning permission are the closest that has been achieved to success.

“Waiting for the economy to improve could lead to the loss of key anchor tenants and it is therefore suggested that the option of accepting changes to the scheme is the best way of achieving a development and securing over 600 jobs. However, there are risks in this approach which councillors need to bear in mind when they make a decision.”

Statement by Simons

IN a statement, Andrew Pollett, project director for Simons, said: “Simons Developments can confirm its commitment to the second phase of the Charles Street project.

“The plan was always to complete the office phase of the development before moving on to the retail element and this remains the case.”

District's Exisiting Building Not Sold

A separate report to councillors says the district council has still not managed to sell its current offices. It received two bids to buy Stratton House but neither reached the sum it expected.

Director of Resources Jason Vaughan sai “Although the results of the initial tender exercise are not what we would have hoped for, there are still a number of options to progress the disposal of the site which will be presented to the council’s Executive Committee next week.

“More details about each of these options will be needed before any decisions can be made, however, should the council choose to sell Stratton House for a lesser sum, or indeed retain the site until the property market recovers, the project to relocate to the new, smaller and more efficient offices in Charles Street will still deliver annual savings.”