An attempt to convert an empty former mill building in East Road, Bridport into two two-bed rental homes has been refused - for the second time.

Several neighbours and the town council had supported the application saying that the town needed more low-cost accommodation, but Dorset Council says the site should be kept for employment use.

But town councillors fear that could lead to the site forever being kept vacant.

Bridport town council had backed the application although it recognised that the Neighbourhood Plan ear-marks the site as a work area.

Said the town council in response to the latest application: “The council is concerned that repeated refusal of proposals for residential development will lead to there being no use at all of this brownfield site, which has remained empty for many years despite attempts by the applicant to market it for commercial use.”

Town councillors had decided that the benefit of affordable housing outweighed the preferred, employment, use for the site.

Dorset Council planning case officers concluded that there is nothing to justify a departure in policy and points out that the site sits within the East Road Trading Estate, surrounded by commercial uses, including a sawmill and is not ideal for residential use.

Despite this Dorset Council recently approved the conversion of an office building for homes in the middle of a Dorchester industrial estate, although local councillors opposed it.

The Bridport planning application listed the property as 20 The Flat, East Road describing it as 880 square metres of “empty and redundant light industrial buildings,” which was last in use in November 2018.

The site is also known as Asker Mill, dating from the mid-19th century with other parts of the complex dating from the 1930s.

A heritage statement said that when the current owners took occupancy of the building the first floor was in residential use and the ground floor was an office supporting a light industrial unit.

PAAD Architects, acting for the owner, Mr Tom Halifax, say the site is surrounded by a variety of uses, including takeaway food business, offices, industrial uses and some residential properties.

They argue that because of the surroundings the conversion to residential would be unlikely to attract high end or holiday rental uses and will, therefore, “be accessible to a wider demographic” with bus stops nearby and the site only 600 metres from the centre of Bridport.

A Dorset Council report said in response to the claims: “While the proposed housing is for relatively small units which would likely sit at the lower end of the price scale for rental or sale value, they are not proposed as ‘affordable housing’ per se and would simply be lower cost market housing with no lasting requirement that they would be available on that basis.”

The same report questions the suitability of the two units, with views onto a parking area and with a sawmill to the rear, with one room just one metre away from an industrial building.

“As well as offering essentially no outlook whatsoever that relationship would mean that there would be limited natural light to that window and the living area as a whole,” said the Dorset Council report, adding that neither home would have any external space.