By Alistair Chisholm
‘You’re passionate about this town, you want to preserve its heritage and you’re sceptical about Marks and Spencer’s.’ These were the points that Martin Hamilton, Strategic Director for the Dorset Councils Partnership, said he would be taking away from Dorchester Civic Society’s December meeting.
Mr Hamilton had been addressing the society on ‘Transforming Dorchester’s Economy’ and provoked a lively discussion amongst the 60 or so members present.
The strategic director for West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland and North Dorset Councils spoke about the Dorchester-Weymouth Growth Corridor, plans to build 20,000 new homes (see p7), create 13,200 jobs, allocate 173 acres of new employment land and – of most interest to this audience – develop new retail opportunities in Charles Street and Fairfield in Dorchester.
“Dorchester has a rich heritage and culture, and tourism is a sleeping giant,” said Hamilton.
“But we need to do more than preserve our heritage. We need to provide modern retail facilities so that we don’t lose out to Poole’s Dolphin Centre or Yeovil. The demand for small shops is declining and the multiples need larger units so that deliveries and ‘click and collect’ can be accommodated.”
WDDC sees Dorchester Market as a crucial element in the town, but needs to address its gradual decline and give it a secure future.
As revealed in the Voice, this it proposes to do by moving it to a new (as yet undecided) location. A new retail centre with a larger M&S is proposed for Fairfield, with town centre parking in a decked car park on Charles Street. At present both car parks are vital to WDDC’s income.
One South Street businessman commented that he had attended consultation sessions about Dorchester town centre for the last 33 years. “What’s different this time?” he asked. “Why, after millions of pounds have been spent on planning a shopping centre at Charles Street, is it not being talked about now?”
He suggested that Brewery Square is pulling development towards the south. A sceptical audience questioned whether the suggested Fairfield development was for the people of the town or for the shareholders of Marks and Spencer’s.
Town centres are not static; streets change in importance in most towns. But a strong pull from a new development in Fairfield will lead to further decline in our most historic street – High West / High East Street – and the Civic Society is concerned.
Martin Hamilton tells us West Dorset District Council is listening. Let’s hold him to that.