THE casting vote of a planning committee chairman will result in an historic former military hospital in Dorchester being converted into five flats.

Cllr Sherry Jespersen used her personal vote to stop a recommendation from Dorchester councillor Stella Jones to reject the scheme – and then used her casting vote to give the project approval by a one-vote margin.

Dorchester councillors had argued that the homes would be inappropriate in the middle of an industrial estate and should be kept for employment use.

The counter argument was that the building, which has been vacant for a quarter of a century, would remain un-used and fall further into disrepair if not converted to flats.

Councillors were told that the owners had tried to sell the site as a business, but had not found any takers. It was said that one of the issues for the continuing commercial use of the site was that it is a listed building, severely limiting the ability to make any substantial changes.

Dorset Echo: The former military hospital will become homesThe former military hospital will become homes

They were told that around £400,000 had already been spent maintaining and part-converting the building and a similar sum, or more, would be needed to convert it further for commercial use.

Developers George Crook and Sons said the conversion to homes was the only viable way to preserve the building in the middle of the town’s Grove Industrial estate.

A noise report had been produced for the Dorset Council area planning committee, meeting on Tuesday, which showed that sound levels would be acceptable to residents if double glazing could be fitted to the building as part of the conversion work.

Mr Crook’s company says the changes to the external appearance of the building would be minimal to protect its historic character.

The building work would also restore some of the period features such as chimney breasts, “to create homes with a unique sense of character.”

The proposals, which have been amended since first proposed, allow for a 1-bed and two 2-bed ground floor flats and a 2-bed and a 3-bed flat on the first floor. The original application, in March 2019, asked for six flats on the site.

Dorchester councillors Stella Jones called on the committee to reject the new proposals, a position shared by Dorchester town councillors.

“It’s completely in the wrong place…should we really be allowing homes on an industrial estate?” said Cllr Jones.

Ward councillors Les Fry and Andy Cannings also both objected claiming the development would result in homes in an unsuitable location given the noise and passing traffic and the nature of some of the surrounding businesses. They were also concerned about the limited amount of outside space for some of the flats.

Dorset Echo: How the site looks nowHow the site looks now

Speaking for both councillor Les Fry said a similar application had been rejected in 2019 and in August last year that decision had been later upheld by a planning inspector.

He argued that little had changed with the new application, which he said had only been “slightly tweaked” and that to allow the flats would cause harm to the listed building, possibly one of the only former military hospital sites in the county.

Cllr Fry also argued that it would result in housing off a busy road in an industrial estate with all the potential problems that might bring for people living there, including conflict with existing businesses.

He said the residents would be subjected to noise and pollution, pointing out that at least one of the nearby companies operated seven days a week and the road was often used as a rat run to avoid the Top o’ Town roundabout.

Agent for the developers, Richard Burgess, told the committee that the site had suffered trespass and vandalism, including an attempt to set fire to it and, at one point, had travellers camped in its grounds. It was said that unless the site was converted to homes it would continue to deteriorate because the restrictions on the building rendered it un-useable for modern businesses.

The former military hospital is one of the few buildings to remain intact from the days when the whole area was the Maumbury Barracks, originally part of the Royal Horse Artillery Barracks built in 1799. The hospital served the soldiers and their families until the mid-20th Century.

It was also used as part of the First World War Prisoner of War camp which once held 4,500 men.

Many of the buildings on the barracks site were sold to Royal Mail and Dorset County Council in the early 1960s.

The former military hospital is one of two Grade II listed buildings within the trading estate, the other being the former riding school which is now used by a carpet business and a cleaning company.