PLANS to sell the former Dorchester Prison site for a multi-million pound profit have been described as 'staggering'.

HMP Dorchester was publicly-owned until 2014 when the Ministry of Justice sold it to developer City & Country for £3.5 million, as part of a portfolio of four prisons.

As reported, the site has planning permission for almost 200 homes to be built - none of which are to be 'affordable' after the developer successfully appealed to have the requirement lifted.

However work did not get underway, with the delay blamed on problems with 'resources'.

It has since emerged that City & Country intends to sell the land for around £10 million - which, according to the developer, has been on the cards since day one.

A spokesman said: “Since acquiring the prison, and throughout an extensive consultation process, we have been clear about the possibility of us looking to secure a development partner to help take the scheme forward.

"Whilst this process has been ongoing, we have been working on site to make sure that conditions relating to our planning permission have been carried out, meaning residential development could move forward swiftly if another party were to take it forward.”

Meanwhile, ward councillor for Dorchester North Alistair Chisholm said it is "unbelievable" that the firm stands to make a profit from a site that, until recently, was under public ownership - with over £7 million worth of public money spent on refurbishing the prison before it closed in 2013.

"It is staggering," he said.

"I just find it unbelievable that (the site) wasn't first offered to another public body to see if it could be used by the community.

"Ideally it would be nice, given the housing crisis, for some of the homes to be affordable for people who currently do not have a hope in hell of affording a roof over their head - not for people with loads of money."

According to the Ministry of Justice, the government may be able to recoup some money from the sale of the prison, but the figure is confidential.

Mr Chisholm added: "With five acres of prime land, the site could be a very exciting community project, offering business startup units and affordable homes - but that requires investment from the local authority.

"If sold, ironically it could end up as a sort of gated community with one way in and one way out - similar to its former role as a prison but for rather wealthier people than before."

Referencing the proposed north of Dorchester housing development, Mr Chisholm added: "(The prison) is on a brownfield site, which should be used before developing on greenfield and could have met much of our housing needs.

"Very few local people are in a position to buy the type of homes being proposed at the site - which will mean more people moving to the area and more pressure on local services.

"We should be using sites such as the prison to meet our housing needs before we destroy the natural world."

The project has been mired in controversy - as reported, in 2018 a row broke out over what would happen to the bodies of executed inmates, including 'real life' Tess of the D'Urbervilles Martha Brown who is believed to be the inspiration for the eponymous Thomas Hardy novel.

Meanwhile Lord Fellowes, creator of Downtown Abbey who lives at West Stafford, said it would be 'completely unacceptable' for bodies to be left at the site.

A spokesman for Cotswold Archaeology said no excavations have been made for around two and a half years.

"Work has been put on hold because the current owner plans to sell the site," the spokesman said. "Assuming they do sell the site, things could progress, but it is unlikely in the near future."

Commenting on how many remains could be removed, he said: "We allowed for 50, but it may be that only ten survive."