WEST DORSET District Council is making a big effort to win support for plans for the revamp of Dorchester town centre, and below – word for word – are two press releases issued today. Why word for word? Because on big issues like this, hours and hours of effort goes into producing press releases, and if you regard them as rhetorical rhumbas or peruse them as political poems, they can actually give a surprising amount of pleasure.
The first one, for example, starts with the word “the”? Why “the” and not “a”, when there have been a couple of other schemes before that failed to come to anything? That’s the reason. “The” sounds more planned and definite, whereas “a” would subliminally raise the possibility that this scheme too might never materialise.
But then whoever wrote this is also honest. That’s why “long-awaited” comes next. The council has been wanting for the best part of twenty years to get a scheme going on the Charles Street site, and the writer feels compelled to acknowledge this fact while at the same time seeking also to suggest that over the last two decades the people of Dorchester have been chafing for action… But have they?
There are also points omitted. I’ll just pick out two for now, one good, one bad. The bad, but hardly surprising, point is that there’s no mention of the recent fine Simons was given for bid rigging. I’ve put what WDDC had to say about this last September at the bottom of this press release.
The good point is that there is no mention of the Olympics. I was told a while ago that Team Dorset wanted to include the Charles Street redevelopment as an Olympic legacy – think how the spending of £60 million could swell the benefits claimed – but thankfully the idea was squashed. It’s bad enough seeing the Dorchester to Weymouth Relief Road claimed as an Olympic legacy. But that’s another story… For now, seriously, enjoy what’s below.
THE LONG-AWAITED £60 million redevelopment of Dorchester town centre will move one step closer if a planning application is submitted next month.
The redevelopment of the Charles Street car park in Dorchester is a key priority for the district council.
The planned redevelopment would provide a more vibrant county town with quality facilities including extra shopping, a new library and adult learning centre, affordable housing, 484 public car parking spaces, a 60-bedroom hotel and a new bus stop.
There will be a place to leave cycles and new public toilets are also planned.
Developers, Simons – whose work with West Oxfordshire District Council recently landed a Best Regeneration Partnership award in the Community Partnership Awards – intends to submit a planning application to the district council by April.
Some major retailers have already shown interest in occupying the anchor store.
Pedestrian walkways will link the development to South Walks, Tudor Arcade and Hardye Arcade, meaning that the whole of the town centre will benefit from the development.
New council offices are also planned, and Dorset County Council is looking at whether relocating Dorchester Library to the Charles Street development would meet service needs and provide value for money. A total of £500,000 has been provisionally set aside by the county council towards fitting-out costs if the move is given the go-ahead.
West Dorset District Council Chief Executive David Clarke said relocating the county council’s library and adult learning centre to the new complex would mean better access for local people to a wide range of public services in one place.
Council Leader Robert Gould said: “The public have been kept informed and been consulted for more than two years on the latest plans to develop this site. All the details can be found on www.charlesstreetproject.com
“When the planning application is submitted, there will be a three week period for people to have their say and let the council, as the planning authority, know what they think about the proposals.”
He added: “The new offices will provide a first phase to the important redevelopment of the Charles Street site.
“The development will bring significant private investment, a wider range of shops and facilities and more jobs to the county town.
“The redevelopment as a whole will help Dorchester and the surrounding area recover faster from the current recession.”
For more information visit dorsetforyou.com/charlesstreet
WDDC statement on Simons’ fine last September:
West Dorset District Council Chief Executive David Clarke said: “The district council was disappointed to learn that Simons is one of the 112 companies investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) over cover pricing/bid rigging.
“The investigation relates to three contracts submitted by a local works office of Simons Construction Ltd outside of Dorset, over eight years ago. Simons cooperated fully with the OFT and as a result their fine was reduced by 40%.
“There is no connection between this investigation and the proposed development in Charles Street, Dorchester by Simons’ Developments Ltd who were not involved in the investigation.
“The OFT has advised that businesses that have been part of this investigation should not be excluded from future tenders and are expected to be more compliant with competition rules in the future. The council follows OFT’s recommendations and has specifically employed a leading firm of quantity surveyors to advise the council on the tender process.”
Editor’s Note: The second press release expands on that simple-looking clause in the first, which states that “New council offices are also planned”. The council’s proposed move to new offices is described as “a key boost” to the town centre redevelopment plans outlined above.
Existing offices at Stratton House (which has, apparently, 17 different floors) are said to be “wholly unsuitable”: they prevent the council from working “effectively and efficiently as a single organisation”. It would be nice to know what the council is prepared to admit – aside from paying big bills for things like heating – that it is doing ineffectively and inefficiently at the moment.
It would also be nice to know how the council squares its future as “a single organisation” with the cost-cutting Pathfinder proposals for West Dorset, Weymouth & Portland and Purbeck all to operate under one supreme team of managers.
My feeling, for what it’s worth, is that people need to ask a lot of questions about this.
Why West Dorset District Council has to downsize
WEST DORSET District Council has launched a video to explain why it needs to downsize and move to modern new offices.
Its chief executive David Clarke is the face of the six-minute film telling people that:
- It’s cheaper for the council to move than to stay where it is
- New council offices and a possible library will mean better access for customers
- Public parking spaces in the town centre will be freed up, in addition to 484 car parking spaces remaining in Charles Street
- The council’s carbon footprint will be reduced
- The Old Crown Court would be developed as a heritage attraction
The video is available to view now on YouTube. Mr Clarke said: “As part of its continued search for savings the district council has decided that it makes no sense to continue to invest taxpayers’ money into the existing buildings which, when built, were never designed as offices.
“It is cheaper for us to downsize and move to modern and efficient offices than to stay. The new building will be less than half the size of current campus.
“Importantly, the new offices will reduce our carbon footprint and will save the taxpayers between £140,000 and £160,000 a year.
“The new offices will be better for customers because they will be able to access all services in one new convenient place rather than at the various different receptions we have now.
“As the first phase of the redevelopment, the offices will also be a key boost to secure the £60m private investment in the Charles Street retail, housing and hotel development.”
The costs of building the new offices will be around £10.7 million. The district council can fund this by selling the Stratton House complex, which it expects will fetch around £3.5 million. The authority has already built up £3 million in reserves to meet the high costs of maintaining Stratton House over the next few years. The council can afford to either use current reserves or borrow up to £4.2 million to fund the rest of the new building costs, because it will not be paying huge utility bills, cleaning and maintenance at Stratton House. The cost of borrowing for local authorities is at historically very low interest rates which can be fixed for the period of the loan.
The council will also ensure the continued use of the existing Stratton House site, made up of several historically important buildings. In particular, negotiations are ongoing with the National Trust about the future of the Old Crown Court and Cells, based in the Shire Hall part of the council offices.
West Dorset District Council’s Head of Corporate Resources and Health Adrian Stuart said: “Moving to new offices will help us improve efficiency and provide further savings to maintain front line services in the longer term.
“If the proposals get planning permission, we expect to move in to the new offices during early summer 2012.”
He added: “The council needs to move because the alternative is to make a significant investment in our current Stratton House site.
“Even after making such an investment we would still be occupying buildings that are wholly unsuitable to their current use as offices, will cost more to maintain, clean, heat and light than is reasonable to expect, and prevent us from working effectively and efficiently as a single organisation.”