Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

Dorchester voters reject plan for new district council HQ

RESULTS of a town poll in Dorchester show the overwhelming majority of those who voted are against West Dorset District Council’s plan to spend £10.7 million on new council offices.

There was a 15.4 per cent turn out for the poll. For new offices: 156 people. Against: 2044.

The Liberal Democrats now want the council to abandon its proposal to build a new HQ as part of the redevelopment of the Charles Street site in Dorchester town centre.

Stella Jones, Leader of the West Dorset District Council Liberal Democrats, said: “The people of Dorchester have spoken clearly. They are completely opposed to what the district council are proposing to do, on which they refuse to consult.

“We congratulate everyone who organised this historic first ever town poll and look forward to an early response from West Dorset District Council as to what they are now going to do.

“Clearly they should abandon the project.”

A town poll was organised after a public meeting called by Dr Sue Farrant, the Liberal Democrats’ parliamentary candidate for West Dorset, in Dorchester on March 24.

Another meeting was held in Bridport earlier this week. People there – 80 or so – were also opposed to the council’s scheme.

West Dorset District Council Chief Executive David Clarke said: “District councillors decided in July 2009 to move the council to smaller, more efficient and cheaper offices in Charles Street, Dorchester, and in December 2009 authorised the terms and the signing of the agreement with the developer.

“The results of the parish poll represent the views of less than three per cent of the West Dorset electorate. The result is not binding on the council and does not over-ride the many decisions taken on this issue at public meetings by the democratically elected councillors since the review of the council’s main offices began in June 2007.

“The council’s position remains as decided last December when the terms for the relocation of the offices were approved.

“The planning application for the Charles Street site will be submitted soon.

“I would invite everyone to study the plans and give their views on the planning merits of this £60 million redevelopment scheme providing not only council offices, but a better range of shops, a new 484-space public car park, hotel, affordable homes, public toilets, library and adult education centre.”

West Dorset District Council recently issued an eight-page leaflet seeking to persuade people of the merits of moving from its existing HQ at Stratton House in Dorchester.

More can be read at http://www.dorsetforyou.com/charlesstreet

Outside of Dorchester, people living across West Dorset can have their say in a constituency-wide poll at officespoll.org.uk

7 Responses to “Dorchester voters reject plan for new district council HQ”

  1. Incredulous

    I find it worrying that the Chief Executive is promoting the leading party’s stance in this. Surely, council OFFICERS are there to administer – NOT to actively promote any particular side. His comments on the Town Poll in Dorchester are surely not part of his job – he is after all, an employee NOT a councillor.

    Council EMPLOYEES are supposed to stay neutral in council matters, just like civil servants – do the job and don’t publicly take sides.

    I am sure that not ALL the leading party’s councillors agree with this proposal but it seems that they are afraid to stand up and be counted in Council meetings. If this Council is truly democratic, then why don’t they speak up instead of playing ‘follow my leader’?

    I voted them in and am now ashamed of having done so. I shall certainly change my vote at the local elections next year.

  2. Alastair Nisbet

    Why is West Dorset so implacably opposed to considering alternative schemes ?

    Why can’t they come up with something that brings a tangible benefit for the community?

    And how does their rejection of the poll square with the Tories’ plans to give local people more say? It doesn’t.

    At least 2000 people want answers to these and other questions – the council’s response is simply not acceptable.

  3. Claire

    Two words – Big Society. Now is the time to practice what you preach Conservative councillors, MPs and the like. It’s hard isn’t it, when the people that voted you in disagree with you, but that’s democracy, and it’s about time you listened. Dorset citizens have seen over £36 million disappear into bankrupt Icelandic purgatory and now we’re expected to accept without question the spending of a further £10 million plus on a scheme that very few seem to understand. If it is something that really will save money, bring employment, and enhance our lives for the future then make us understand, quickly and cheaply (ie: no long drawn out consultation a la Gore Cross Waste Plant or Mountjoy School relocation). If not, admit it and move on.

  4. Incredulous

    WDDC is producing leaflets/brochures in panic now. The latest one says “Moving will save taxpayers around £145,000 a year from day one, after we have made the repayments of £4.2 million loan needed to finance the build. Over 25 years this is more than £3.6 million”.

    Sorry – but have I missed something? The saving from the FIRST day AFTER the repayment of the £4.2 million? Over 25 years? It is going to take 25 years to save less than the loan? Is this AFTER the interest payments on £4.2 million?

    So when is the FIRST day? How long will it take to repay the loan?

    In 25 years’ time, I shall be 95 if I am still here!

    WDDC also says that the National Trust will probably be taking over the Crown Court site – NO MENTION OF THE HUGE DOWRY that the National Trust requires – a million pounds I believe! At the Bridport meeting, we also heard about a few other millions which WDDC is not telling us about!

    In answer to the question “What have you done to keep people informed?”, the latest leaflet/brochure says “…….The reports to the Executive Committee and the Full Council were widely available and dscussed at meetings open to the public. ………We have also carried out a survey of the people using our existing receptions to identify their preference for the location.”

    How many people know that they can attend these meetings? I have asked many people and they didn’t know! These matters may have been ‘discussed’ at these meetings – but by councillors only. The public is not allowed to say anything – hardly public ‘discussion’!

    The Chief Executive is quoted as saying that the turnout at the Dorchester Town Poll was only the view of less than 3 per cent of the West Dorset electorate. I would now like to know what the percentage of those who allegedly took part in the reception survey was – the leaflet says “they came out strongly in support of a site in the town centre close to the shops and public transport facilities”.

    So Mr Clarke – let us have this comparison please! How many people were actually asked? And where is the proof that the majority was in support? Were records kept? And where are they?

  5. Sameoldstory

    More efficient would be to merge district and county councils, sack the chief execs who are so plumped up they seem to think they are the key decision makers and get someone in who’s in touch with reality. If the Tories win the election then their plan of enabling communities to force local referenda will bang this right open. Technically I think this is called hoisting the local Conservatives by their own petard! Almost wishing for it.

  6. nathalie roberts

    I would love to understand why Dorchester might need new shops, the town centre already has plenty and whilst competition is good, if it takes shoppers away from the centre will it benefit the town? Is it a case of providing an alternative to Yeovil or Exeter and will it provide enough extra revenue to the town to be worth it? Will the ‘better range of shops’ benefit the chains or the locals? What is a better range of shops?

    I am glad to see that a new hotel is proposed, it is rare to see people understanding the benefit of tourism. Dorset has so much to offer holidaymakers and weekenders but does not capitalise on that. The councils do not have the budget to actively promote the area although the team at WDDC do a great job with the little they have. I assume that the hotels in Dorchester are already fully booked and the clientele that visits Dorchester likes the idea of staying in a brand new hotel. I am sure the new hotel will have charm, charisma, a sense of history and culture that reflect the history of the town and the county. I don’t know for a fact as I have not done the market research. I am sure they have, as nobody invests these amounts of money without proper planning (and I’m not talking permission here).

    I think that the main problem here, as Claire pointed out, is that we are not clear on why moving might be better, how much money would be spent, saved and what the town and the county will get out of it. Surely the people outside of Dorchester want to see the money from the District spent on benefits the county, not just the town. Of course, in order to find that out, the county would have to come and ask us. Facebook, twitter, good old fashioned PR in the papers, face to face events and a bit more pro-activity would go a long way, whether they wear blue, yellow or red (or why not green?!).

    Of course, that is assuming they want to know what the people from Dorset think on this issue. If explained properly why it’s a good idea, we may well see a local builder win a large contract in a tender, more jobs for Dorchester people, I may go shopping that way more often but I won’t use the library or the adult education centre. I’ve got these in Beaminster.
    The loo might come in handy.

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