HISTORIC Sherborne House may be converted into offices and homes.

The plans are among those submitted for the Grade I listed property by Redcliffe Homes Ltd.

Dorset County Council has selected the developer as its preferred bidder for the house and ground.

Redcliffe's ideas include restoring and converting the 18th century building into offices, incorporating an exhibition area open to the public.

There would also be a residential development on the land at the back. An art and exhibition centre would be on the ground floor of the house.

The public would be allowed into the building and a mural by Sir James Thornhill on its baroque stairwell will be preserved.

Redcliffe also aims to retain the Sherborne House Trust within the restored building and hopes that space may also be found for the Frink collection and archives. Council leader Angus Campbell said: "I am pleased that we have been able to identify a solution that will bring about the long-awaited restoration of Sherborne House and will retain public access to the building.

"There is still work to be done to fine-tune the scheme, but I believe that once restored, the building will offer a valuable resource for the town of Sherborne, while maintaining a facility for the arts community."

The council settled on Redcliffe's bid as offering 'the best prospects for the long-awaited restoration and ongoing management of the building'.

It chose the developer from a shortlist of potential buyers.

The council decided to place Sherborne House on the market last autumn.

The move came after councillors decided that plans to transform the building into a regional arts centre were not financially viable.

It was stipulated that any buyer would have to enter into a legal agreement requiring refurbishment of the building according to specifications agreed with the local planning authority and English Heritage.

Now the council will work with Redcliffe to finalise a scheme acceptable to West Dorset District Council, as the local planning authority, and English Heritage.

Work will start next autumn if negotiations succeed.

Redcliffe Homes is based in Chipping Sodbury near Bristol.

It has undertaken developments in such locations as Bath.

The council has not revealed how much Redcliffe has offered for the house.

The developer would need to invest a considerable amount in the restoration and conversion of the house and construction of homes.

Trustees of the building bid for £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, but were rejected in 2006.