More than £2million could be invested on a new covered market and car park on Dorchester’s Charles Street car park.

The move would leave the Fairfield free for a future shopping development and a decked car park.

The idea appears to mark the end of proposals, first made in the 1970s, for a big retail development at Charles Street – reflecting recent changes in the decline of high street shopping.

West Dorset District Council believes the idea would not only protect the weekly market, seen as a major attraction for the town, but also safeguard other town centre shops and restaurants by keeping market visitors in the town centre.

A lift, stairs and a bridge would link the site to the Tudor Arcade close to Waitrose.

They say there would still be the potential for a new small, budget, supermarket in the town centre and possibly a hotel. A confidential report to district councillors on August 20 will spell out the details with a recommendation for further work on schemes for both the Charles Street and the Fairfield sites.

In public reports the council development director Martin Hamilton says that attracting a new ‘destination retailer’ to Dorchester is now “highly improbable in the current economic climate.”

His report suggests that a new covered market might reverse the decline of the existing Wednesday stall market which has lost 14 per cent of its gross turnover since March 2016 and is limited in size during the colder and wetter months of the year.

National research suggests that a good market can increase town centre footfall by around 25 per cent on market days with more than half of market visitors also spending in other shops.

The report says that by relocating the market to the town centre it would “provide an opportunity to effectively re-set the focus of the market”. 

With the move and the new covered area would come an expectation that the market should support local traders, with a focus on quality craft/ food/vintage items alongside traditional offerings such as fruit and veg, meat and flowers.

“The look and feel of the market needs to be of sufficient quality to encourage people to extend the time they spend on site. This can be achieved through design, trader mix, and music/entertainment,” says the report to councillors.

The covered market would be constructed so that its use as a car park would continue when the market is not in action.

If next week’s committee agrees to the proposals a further feasibility study on the concept of a covered market on Charles Street, and more detailed design and costing would be prepared – together with an assessment of the economic benefits on the primary shopping area.

Although the content of the confidential reports are not known Mr Hamilton suggests in the public documents and said: “Officers have indicated previously that some key retailers are considering their ongoing operation in the town unless they can relocate to a new larger 'destination' site.

"Their preferred location would be the Fairfield car park site, discounting the Charles Street site due to its development history.”

Plans also involve the creation of twenty-three new car parking spaces – at a cost of at least £40,500 each and the demolition of a church.

West Dorset District Council is running a public engagement event on Dorchester’s Town Centre Masterplan.

This is on Wednesday, August 22 at 6pm and Thursday, August 23 at 4.30pm and 6pm at the West Dorset District Council offices, South Walks House, Dorchester.

The format of the event will be a presentation, followed by a question and answer session.

Cllr Tony Alford, Leader of West Dorset District Council, “We understand there is a lot of public interest in the Dorchester Town Centre Masterplan. There has been a great deal of work done on the many strands that make up the masterplan. We want to use this event to update the public on our progress over the last 12 months, and give the opportunity to ask questions.”