Dorset Council's South Walks House in Dorchester could become a new Dorset Police base, with some staff moving from Winfrith, it has emerged.

The building is being investigated for possible police use.

Dorset Council and the police say the talks started prior to the coronavirus pandemic and are ongoing although no decision has yet been made.

The council has recently announced that none of its public offices would re-open until at least the end of March because of the risks of spreading coronavirus.

Council officials have also been looking, in a broader sense, about how services would be provided in the future, and whether it has the need for so much property. It has already left Princes House in Dorchester and Allenview on the outskirts of Wimborne.

Around 2,500 council staff have been working from their homes since March, an operation which has been largely successful with an increase in flexible working and no dip in productivity.

In a statement Dorset Council admitted they have been talking to the police about use of the South Walks House building: “We’re always thinking about alternative uses for Dorset Council buildings, which will often include early conversations with our public sector partners. In this instance, we have been discussing how we can best utilise the spare space we’ve had at South Walks House since last year and whether the police would be interested in using it.

“It’s important to note that these discussions had been taking place before the pandemic started and are not related to current working from home practices. Even if all South Walks House-based Dorset Council employees return to the office in March, we would still have the additional space available to offer. At present, no decision has been made and discussions are ongoing.”

Dorset Police also issued a statement: “Dorset Police has for some time been exploring options in relation to the necessary re-development of the headquarters and reception building at Winfrith, which was built in 1958 and is near the end of its lifespan.

“As part of a prudent and considered approach to updating the police estate, the force is currently considering multiple options, including with a range of public sector partners, one of whom is Dorset Council.

“There are no plans for disposal of the police station in Weymouth Avenue, Dorchester.

“Any decision will be taken with the engagement of staff, UNISON, the Police Federation and the Superintendents Association.”

Controversial building

The South Walks House building has been controversial since its inception – because of its location and its estimated £10 million cost, compounded by the fact that the West Dorset District Council failed to reach the £3.5m-plus figure it hoped for when it sold its former headquarters in High West Street.

That site has since been redeveloped for housing, along with the nearby former County Laboratory, close to County Hall.

The district council at the time justified the new building by saying that it would not only provide a better environment for staff, but would save at least £200,000 a year in running costs.