DORCHESTER’S ‘townscape’ could soon be changing with proposals to convert more offices into homes.

Town and unitary councillor for the county town, Andy Canning, says the trend, partly brought about by the pandemic, could have consequences for the town centre economy, parking and congestion.

He is asking for changes in the Local Plan, currently being reviewed, to reflect this.

Dorset Council-owned buildings could be converted to homes – the South Walks House headquarters and the South Annexe on the County Hall site, along with other privately-owned buildings in the area.

Among these is Vespasian House, home to the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), where the owners now have prior approval permission to convert that building to 65 apartments, although the CCG say that at this time they have no plans to leave the building.

Several former offices in High West Street already have planning permission for conversion to flats and are being marketed, while the Princes House building in the town centre, until recently used by Dorset Council, is also considered another prime site for potential conversion to flats.

Similar exercises looking at conversions of commercial properties to homes are taking place in Weymouth including for large buildings, above shops, in St Mary Street, St Thomas Street and Queen Street.

Cllr Canning says that even if only some of the larger Dorchester buildings are converted it could have a big effect on the town in terms of its economy, congestion, car parking and housing.

Traders have already expressed concerns about the town’s economy following the Dorset Council decision not to re-open South Walks House.

Cllr Canning says the changes already taking place ought to be reflected in the current review of the Local Plan for the area and suggests that Dorset Council look again at its proposals for Dorchester.

“There is every likelihood that other offices will follow.  All factors which we believe should be taken into account when looking at DOR13 (Dorchester North housing proposal) plus we maintain this makes the existing local plan for the town centre completely out of date so there should be a new masterplan to recognise these significant changes,” he said.

Dorset Council has said that it is currently in the process of reviewing all of the comments made on the Local Plan review and will publish its response to these, with new proposals if needed, later in the year. This will be followed by another round of consultation in 2022 which may bring forward new proposals.

DORSET Council this week approved the change of a former estate agents in High West Street into flats.

The conversion, at 51 High West Street, will provide three flats.

A financial adviser, currently the only business in the building, is to move on.

One of the new flats will be one-bed, the others two-bed. The building is listed, grade 2, and lies within the town’s conservation area.