COUNCILLORS have blocked a bid to consider a new proposal for the new offices of West Dorset District Council (WDDC).

At a heated full council meeting, a majority vote rejected a motion to halt plans for the new £10.7million council offices at the Charles Street development while a thorough investigation is made into a new offer.

It comes after council chiefs refused an offer earlier this week from the Duchy of Cornwall, which it is claimed would save the council £3million by building their new headquarters in the new Queen Mother Square development at Poundbury.

Councillor Ros Kayes put forward the motion and said: “Given the offer of a new site for the proposed council offices by the Duchy of Cornwall at a reduced cost to the council of £3million and given the statutory duty on all councils to provide best value in major financial decision-making, I propose a suspension of the current project for new offices until a thorough investigation has been made of the new offer, to be brought for decision to the council after May 2011.”

Councillor Stella Jones said she was ‘very concerned’ that councillors did not know more about this offer, which had been ‘refused out of hand by one council member.’ Alistair Chisholm, of campaign group Stop Council Offices Now (SCON), said during pubic question time: “At a time when local government is under extreme pressure to make the most of limited resources will WDDC be considering its primary duty to council tax payers by pursuing this cost-saving measure?”

Council leader Robert Gould said the Duchy of Cornwall had declined to put an offer forward to the council in January 2009 and had only recently made an ‘unsolicited approach.’ He said that after ‘long and exhaustive and open and transparent process to select a suitable site’, the council had entered into contractual arrangements with Simons Developers and the county council also decided to relocate its adult education centre and library in partnership with WDDC.

Coun Gould added: “We understand the Duchy’s been left with a new building without a tenant.”

He added that it was ‘not the council’s role’ to fill a building unwanted by the Primary Care Trust and the cost would be ‘much higher’ because the council would have to operate a split site with a satellite office in the town centre.

The meeting was told that the councillors who signed the contract had not read the core text but had trusted council officers and legal advisers and that the developer could sue the council for any breach of contract.

Council chief executive David Clarke emphasised ‘the importance of the complex contractual arrangements with Simons’ and urged councillors to object to the motion, to protect the council’s reputation.