DORSET Council will be flogging off some of the family silver – but the process could take years and with market prices down it may not get what it hopes for land and buildings.

Among its 1,400 ‘assets’ are Weymouth hotels, leisure centres, traditional office buildings, school properties and works depots, as well as hundreds of small plots of land - less than half of what it owns has a building on it. The portfolio has a £37 million maintenance backlog.

A total of 355 of the properties are commercial and earn the council an income.

Among those are 40 farms which bring in about £500,000 a year in rents, although most of these are expected not to be put on the market.

But some sales are inevitable if the council is to close its budget gap. Offices at Princes House in Dorchester and Allenview in Wimborne have already been vacated.

Many buildings may end up being kept because there is no obvious alternative use for them, such as Dorchester’s County Hall.

Other council owned buildings will be investigated to see if they could be put to some other use, including being rented out to local firms that may be considering downsizing.

Added to the mix is uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since March the council has had around 2,500 members of staff working from home and says it will continue to keep staff away from the office until at least the end of next March. The council says that productivity appears not to have suffered by the working arrangements.

The council’s corporate director of property and assets David Thompson told councillors this week: “Covid has clearly changed the way we operate our space. The need for office space is reducing.”

But he also said there was a demand, from children’s social services, for buildings to use and for housing.

He warned that the sheer scale of the operation to dispose of assets will take time and that the council will have to decide where it can make the quickest gains, not necessarily in financial terms.

Councillor Mike Parkes called for the council to keep its farms and said he wanted to see some buildings retained around the county where there could still be public access.

Weymouth councillor Brian Heatley questioned whether the previous approach of simply selling an asset was the right approach.

“We could do rather better if we sort out the planning first and then go for the sale,” he said.