Incremental changes and small 'wins' based around people and places could be the way ahead for Dorchester.

A 'master plan' for the future of the county town suggests that relying on big shopping schemes is unlikely to be the way ahead although creating visitor experiences through history and culture, or even quirky cafés and bars, might regenerate the county town.

But the ever-present problem of the car, and where to park it, is one obstacle which the team behind the latest plan admit could be difficult to resolve.

Many attending presentations at the district council headquarters seem to agree that making more of the town's history and heritage could be a good thing – uncovering the Roman baths under Wollaston Field and putting them on display; making more of the Hardy connection; using the town's history tree-lined walks for activities and opening the much-talked about theatre at the Maltings.

More also needs to be made of the town's open spaces and improving the connections between them and creating better public open spaces, a presentation at South Walks House was told.

Richard Eastham, founder and director of Feria Urbanism, based in Bournemouth, said very few towns had the history of Dorchester, coupled with rail links to London and Bristol, and one of the country's best authors which it could claim as its own. Yet, he said, more could be done to benefit the town from these connections – together with its Roman past, an amphitheatre and an ancient hillfort. And he said, all that, was within walkable distance – taking barely 15 minutes to get on foot from one end of the town centre to the other. He said it was as Thomas Hardy described the town in The Mayor of Casterbridge: “as compact as a box of dominoes.”

Mr Eastham's presentation suggested that while retail might fail and more shops become empty Dorchester was in a strong position and could capitalise on its history and culture.

“People are becoming less interested in acquiring 'stuff' and more interested in having experiences, going away somewhere,” he said.

He said the ideas were not likely to be about big schemes, which often failed, but smaller projects which stood a better chance of success and, when put together, created a more vibrant and lively community.

“We need to break this down into small parcels which can happen independently and be more affordable,” he said.

Work carried out with local groups found more than 70 per cent wanting to see investment in the cultural life of the town; almost half wanting more pedestrian areas – but also a recognition of the problems of affording to live in Dorchester, especially for young people.

Dorchester Mayor, David Taylor, welcomed the idea: “The town's history is immensely important and over the years millions have been invested in it, but we still don't seem to make enough of it to attract visitors,” he said.

Details of the master plan can be found via the DorsetforYou website with the consultation on the initial ideas open until 5pm on Friday, December 7th.

ANOTHER consultation event, where residents and businesses can comment on the development of a Dorchester town centre master plan, will take place today (Saturday).

People can pop in to the district council offices at South Walks House, Dorchester to view the work in progress.

It runs from 10am-1pm today, with presentations at 10:30am and 12pm.

Cllr Anthony Alford, leader of West Dorset District Council, said: “We are delighted to invite members of the public to the consultations on the master plan.

"The aim of these events is to get a picture of the public’s aspirations for the future of Dorchester town centre. Whilst decisions about some sites have already been made by members of West Dorset District Council, this consultation will give the public the opportunity to see what is coming up in the short term and also what possible ideas could be considered for the longer term.”

The master plan aims to take a comprehensive approach to the future of the town centre.