Recent announcements regarding the likely abandonment of South Walks House by Dorset Council have attracted much attention, concern and derision.

The publicised concept of converting the building to apartments bears further scrutiny.

The figures that were published in the Dorset Echo by the Portfolio Holder for Economic Growth, Assets and Property on 26 March err on the side of optimism and are, by his own admission, uncertain.

South Walks House was designed from the outset to be a commercial office building and its conversion to apartments would be far from straightforward. The building would have to be taken back to a shell and rebuilt internally. All the mechanical and electrical installations would need to be replaced. Both the footprint of the building, and the fenestration, are far from ideal for a residential conversion.

Dorchester is very well supplied with apartments with more to come.

In recent years the demand for highly flexible office/desk/ meeting space, with shared core facilities, that can be leased by the hour, by the week or for longer periods, has dramatically increased. This demand will inevitably grow in a post-Covid world.

With its town centre location, within very easy walking distance of the stations, South Walks House is in the perfect location for a co-working office hub that could be configured to provide office space for ambitious start-ups, entrepreneurs and successful small businesses. The building could be adapted for this use with the minimum of building work, and it could bring some real vibrancy into the very heart of the town and generate either a long-term income for the council or a meaningful capital receipt.

The papers presented at last Thursday’s Scrutiny meeting make interesting reading. The entire focus is on maximising short-term revenue or capital receipts.

In that context there is no mention of the business hub idea. Nor is there any consideration of the potential wider benefits for the town. No mention is made of the potential contribution to economic growth that would benefit the town, its businesses and heritage assets.


Chairman, Dorchester Conservatives, Martinstown