A new master-plan for Dorchester town centre has been unveiled, finally moving the focus away from retail development towards a cultural and historical theme.
Part of the town’s Roman baths could also be exposed in a bid to exploit the town’s rich heritage.
It’s the first time West Dorset District Council has moved away from a purely retail theme in its plans – perhaps recognising the rapid demise of the traditional high street.
Members of the public were invited to a series of presentations given by Richard Eastham, director of Bournemouth-based Feria Urbanisation – which specialises in urban strategies, neighbourhood planning and civic design.
Mr Eastham said he wanted to make it clear he was presenting only the early stages of a new master-plan, and stressed that any plan is doomed to fail unless it takes into account the views of its communities.
He said the plan would not provide new answers for unlocking the town’s challenging development sites, but it could present a compelling vision for Dorchester that would cast these opportunity sites in a new light.
Mr Eastham spoke of wanting to build on the town’s history, together with its literary connections, which were the foundation of its charm. Dorchester had developed from Neolithic beginnings, through Roman habitation and development, to its medieval county town model and then to Victorian additions.
Thomas Hardy described the town in Mayor of Casterbridge as a “compact as a box of dominoes” and as “a town of spires, towers, gables and chimneys”. Mr Eastham said it was important not to lose sight of its past but to develop its future sympathetically by adaptation and reuse.
The objectives of the master-plan are:
To enhance the town’s role as a shopping destination;
To retain and improve the vibrant high street experience;
To maximise the economic impact of the cultural offer;
To secure the future of the market;
To enhance the visitor and resident experience through improved open spaces and accessibility.
Mr Eastham said he viewed the development of the Charles Street car park not as one development project, but a series of sites. He suggested a market building for Dorset produce and crafts, and an archaeology pavilion, such as the St Antony Archaeology Park in Oberhausen.
Ideas for the existing market site included the use of the brick buildings for small businesses. There could also be a development of family housing incorporating a market square, while part of the Trinity Street car park could be used for housing development, which would bring life back to the centre of town.
There is a need to attract more young professionals to the town and some investment in Dorchester’s night life might help. Investment in the cultural life of Dorchester including a theatre has been suggested.
It was also proposed that a portion of the Roman baths beneath the Wollaston Field car park should be exposed to complement the other historic sites in the town.
More pedestrianisation would also improve the character and calibre of the town.
Mr Eastham said he realised there would be concern about the lack of parking in the redevelopment plans. He quoted Fred Kent who in his report The Project for Public Spaces wrote, “If you plan cities for cars and traffic you’ll get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places you’ll get people and places.”