TOWN councillors in Dorchester have objected to converting a historic former military hospital on one of the town's industrial estates into six apartments.

Developer Barry Crook says the planning proposal could be the best way of preserving the building on the town's Grove Industrial Estate.

But town councillors say the site would be better used for employment purposes and is not the best location for homes. One claimed that not enough effort had been made to market the building for commercial use.

The town council recommendation will now go to Dorset Council planners who will make the final decision.

Cllr Stella Jones led the objections to the conversion at Monday night's town planning meeting – although others took the opposite view and it was only by a margin of one vote that Mrs Jones' proposal to reject the scheme was approved.

The committee heard that there would be almost no changes to the outside of the historic building with three flats created on each floor.

Only the town's Civic Society had made a comment about the application, saying it was keen to see the building retained and some use made of it.

Said Cllr Jones: “It looks nice but this is employment land. Whoever lives there will have noise and pollution and a risk from traffic. There is no amenity area, no greenery, no trees.”

Cllr Molly Rennie said that, generally, the council welcomed housing applications on brownfield sites, but said she worried that the site was the right place for homes.

Supporting the change was Cllr Fiona Kent-Ledger who said that the site was no worse than many others in the town for noise and pollution: “I think it's a good use and it might encourage other plots on industrial estates and elsewhere, which are under-used to be released for housing.”

But Cllr Ray Ricardo said the argument did not apply on The Grove estate where there were few vacant sites. He said he feared that it could encourage landlords to start selling employment sites for housing which would do little for the town's economy. “This has alarm bells ringing in my head” he said.

Cllr Gareth Jones said he also worried about the precedent it could set and claimed that there was little evidence of the site being marketed for employment use.

“If it were allowed it might have an effect on the businesses around it. At Poundbury Dorset Cereals, before they moved out, were constantly hassled by people who had just moved in about deliveries and lorry movements.

“We need a range of spaces and this, for business, and this is in the 'moving on' category. Dorchester will be in serious trouble if it is dominated by housing and doesn't have enough places to work,” he said.

The former hospital has been empty for a number of years after last being used as offices and is one of the few buildings to remain intact from the days of Maumbury Barracks. It was originally part of the Royal Horse Artillery Barracks, built in 1799, and served the barracks and soldiers' families until the mid 20th Century.

It was also used by those held at the Prisoner of War camp at Dorchester – which, at its peak held 4,500 men. Many of the buildings which had formed the barracks were sold to Royal Mail and Dorset County Council in the early 1960s.

The former military hospital is one of two Grade II listed buildings within the trading estate, the other being the former riding school which is now used by a carpet business and a cleaning company.