HOTEL use for the Dorchester South Walks House council HQ will still be considered as an option.

The idea had initially been ruled out with Dorset Council opting for residential use for the site which they plan to keep closed, moving staff into County Hall.

But now the authority says it will look at all alternative uses.

The building has been locked down since the start of the pandemic with many council staff continuing to work from home.

The portfolio holder in charge of the operation, Cllr Tony Ferrari, said the council had been left with three main option – sell County Hall and keep South Walks House but would then need to build another, similar sized office block at an estimated cost of £10m; dispose of both sites and build a new greenfield civic centre, which would cost even more; or opt to redevelop South Walks House and move staff to County Hall which, he said, made the best financial sense.

The council has already decided to dispose of former council headquarters sites at Norden, Blandford and Furzehill, Wimborne and is also moving out of Princes House in central Dorchester.

Other sites may yet also be removed from the county portfolio including the former borough council site at North Quay, Weymouth and former district HQ at Purbeck House in Wareham.

A Cabinet meeting on Tuesday heard a plea to have more council office space in Weymouth.

Cllr Gill Taylor said she believed that as Weymouth made up 20 per cent of the population of the Dorset Council area it ought to have 20 per cent of the office space which would bring an economic boost to south of the Ridgeway and reduce the need of many local people to commute to Dorchester for work. She said that if Dorset Council showed its faith in the area other businesses might follow the example and re-locate or move to the area.

Cllr Tony Ferrari did not rule out any future moves but said the immediate concern was reducing high-cost office space which was no longer needed in Dorchester. South Walks House, he said, was currently costing £1,500 a day to keep closed.

He said he would expect there to be around 1,000 desk spaces in Dorchester at the end of the exercise while Weymouth currently had 180. He suggested that the social services reorganisation which seeks to put social work staff close to areas of need might yet result in more Dorset Council staff moving to the Weymouth and Portland area.

He also revealed that talks had been held with the Government about it making use of some what he described as the “substantial surplus” of council office space in Dorchester – but said that had drawn a blank as had talks with other public sector bodies, including the police, although he said some may eventually share a limited amount of space at County Hall.

The Weymouth councillor, who is portfolio holder for economic growth, assets and property, says he is keen to find a solution for South Walks House which will be good for the council and Dorchester residents as well.