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Dorchester town centre redevelopment

Dorchester town centre master plan

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Joint working our priority

The master plan aims to take a comprehensive approach to the future of the town centre.  Organisations will need to work together and this is why an overarching town centre master plan is important. The master plan will address:

  • public realm and signage
  • parking 
  • traffic and transport 
  • environmental impacts
  • accessibility
  • key development sites

Cllr Anthony Alford, leader of West Dorset District Council, said:

We are excited about re-invigorating our beautiful, culturally and archaeologically rich County Town. The master plan will ensure that Members and officers across our partner local authorities are all working towards the same vision.

Building on our past for a better future

Joined up working with our communities means we will reap the benefits for generations to come.

Cllr John Russell, Chairman of the Dorchester Town Centre member working group, said:

We need to allow the town to respond flexibly to future site proposals. It's important to remember that the master plan strategy involves the whole town centre and not just sites earmarked for development. This consultation will allow the people of Dorchester and surrounding villages to have their say on what the vision for Dorchester should be.

Cllr Mary Penfold, Portfolio Holder for Enabling, said:

Dorchester deserves to be an exciting destination that isn't simply defined by its retail offer. Culturally, the town is having a “moment”. There is multi-million pound investment in Dorset County Museum. Shire Hall has opened to raving reviews. Work continues on how we can revitalise the Charter Market and other key sites.

A compelling vision for the town

Richard Eastham, Director of Feria Urbanism - the company tasked with writing the town centre master plan - said:

We want to make it clear that this is the early stages of the master plan. Any master plan is doomed to fail unless it takes in to account the views of its communities. The plan won't provide new answers to unlocking the challenging development sites within the town. But it can present a compelling vision for the whole town that can cast these opportunity sites in a new light.

Dorchester town centre masterplan

Keeping retailers in Dorchester and making the town a thriving regional shopping centre remains our aim.

We have tasked town planning specialists Feria Urbanism to work on the town centre masterplan. The objectives of the masterplan are:

  • to enhance the town’s role as a shopping destination
  • to retain and improve the vibrant high street experience
  • to maximise the economical impact of the growing cultural offer
  • to secure the future of the market
  • to enhance the visitor and resident experience through improved public realm and accessibility

The key areas of the masterplan will include:

  • traffic, transport and parking infrastructure and policies
  • public realm and pedestrian flow
  • linking the key areas of the town
  • environmental improvements
  • the marketing of the town as a visitor destination

The early phases of the masterplan have been completed.  These early phases comprised an audit and analysis of the town centre by the project team, desktop research, (including an assimilation of various existing reports) and a series of extensive conversations with a variety of stakeholder groups to understand more about their aspirations for the town centre.

The stakeholder conversations included a series of structured questions and an interactive planning "game" where groups and individuals had the opportunity to plan the Dorchester town centre of the future. The results of these tasks have been translated into plans, drawings, and design ideas.

We will be engaging with the public on these ideas at the end of October. Further information will be available in due course and widely promoted. 

Councillor Anthony Alford, Leader of West Dorset District Council, said:

We want a masterplan that the public can support. We need to deliver the right scheme for residents, businesses, customers and communities. It has to be viable and must be welcomed now and still valued in years to come.

Our vision has always been to make Dorchester a thriving regional shopping destination and we remain committed to keeping retailers in our county town.


We are aware of the national trend among key retailers to reduce the number of operating premises and it is considered likely that Dorchester will be vulnerable to this trend, as other towns are.

After a lot of work from officers - including an economic impact assessment – it was decided that we cannot make any development on Fairfield sufficiently financially attractive at this time. Members agreed in August 2018 strategy committee to not pursue any further work in this area.

Charles Street

Charles Street needs to support the town centre by driving footfall. There are two options currently under discussion to support that objective. Members agreed in August 2018 strategy committee to now formally engage with hotel developers to establish firm interest. Nothing is set in stone until these talks take place.

Dorchester’s Wednesday Market

Charter market, Fairfield market, the Wednesday market… whatever you call the market, it has been an important aspect of town life for hundreds of years. We are committed to ensuring a thriving and vibrant market with a regional reputation as a great day out. We are aiming for a market that rivals any town market for quality, value and experience. We know that markets positively impact on town centres and can generate footfall increases of around 25% for town centres on market days. 

We ran a survey in May 2018 that asked about current opinions on the market, whether respondents shopped there or not. We had 2,145 responses and you can view the report with all the analysis.

In August 2018, West Dorset District Council’s strategy committee agreed to do further work – within existing budgets - to establish the potential impact on the primary shopping area of Dorchester if a new covered market space on the Charles Street site was built. This will include preparations of design and detailed costs and business case.

What could moving the market achieve?

The sustainability of the market is one priority. Unrelated to the potential development of the Fairfield site, the market has been in decline for a number of years. Gross revenue has fallen from £200,000 in 2015/16 to £147,771 for 2017/18.

The proposal for Charles Street does not necessarily involve moving the Charter market; it could mean involve establishing a complementary offer on different days.

We also saw from the recent survey results that there was a potential customer base that were unable to attend the market due to a variety of factors. By moving the market we have a chance to reset the offer. We can build a fit-for-purpose space that hosts a ‘distinctly Dorset’ market, with an increased food and craft offer.

Markets increase retail sales, with significant numbers (55%-71%) of market visitors spending money in other shops. By bringing the market closer to the shops we can boost the arcades and the general economic wellbeing of the town centre. 

What is the vision for the market?

Dorchester’s thriving and vibrant Charter Market has a regional reputation as a great day out for a great day’s shopping, and rivals any town market for quality, value, and experience. Longstanding visitors still enjoy the opportunity to browse and socialise, whilst new visitors delight in the distinctively “Dorset” flavour of its offering. Traders enjoy business success and local entrepreneurs recognise the market as an important start-up opportunity. Shops and cafes in the town centre are passionate about the contribution the market makes to the success of their businesses.

Trinity Street

There are no current plans to move forward with development on this site. The masterplan will consider the positioning on the site and how to make best use of it strategically, whether that’s parking, development or other.

Transport, traffic and parking

We recognise that addressing the transport, traffic and parking issues is of concern to local residents of - and visitors to – Dorchester. The masterplan engagement events in October will seek views on this.

The cultural network of Dorchester is developing – how is the council contributing to this?

We have heard concerns specifically about the Maltings theatre development. Significant funding is still needed to bring this project forward.

The project to raise funds to convert the redundant malthouse into a theatre/arts centre is the responsibility of the Trust, rather than the Council. The project originated as a proposal from Brewery Square as part of its masterplan for the site.

The project is likely to cost at least £10 million and to date the only significant offers of funding have been £250k from Dorchester Town Council and the £1 million of Section 106 money from West Dorset District Council. The Maltings Arts Trust is in discussions with Sir Oliver Letwin and with the Arts Council to explore funding options.

Does the town really need this kind of investment?

We are looking closely at the ‘offer’ of Dorchester, both locally to residents and the outlying villages of the town but also on a national scale. This follows on from a tourism report compiled in 2015.

We are also looking at the current offer for retailers, both independent and chain. The masterplan will look at how we best approach this.

Impact of Unitary

Dorchester is the county town and we want to do as much work as possible in the time in order to hit the ground running with the new authority.

What about affordable housing on these sites instead?

Other sites in Dorchester are prioritised for housing. Larger developments with a mix of tenures are either already underway, have planning consent or are allocated in the local plan. We are currently reviewing West Dorset District Council and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council’s Joint Local Plan. As part of this review, further sites are being considered for future development.

Sites already allocated for housing include:

  • 560 homes at Brewery Square
  • 1,200 homes in the third and fourth phases of development at Poundbury
  • 50 homes at St George's Road
  • 50 homes at Alington Avenue
  • 320 homes in Charminster

As the local plan review Preferred Options consultation is now under way, we are consulting on the potential for major housing development to the North of Dorchester.

How will the council communicate with the public?

We are committed to enhancing our communications with the public. This includes regular E-newsletters updating our residents with the latest news.

Engagement events will enable the public to come and talk with our members and officers.

What about smaller independent shops and businesses? Is the council only interested in flagship stores/big names?

Maintaining the vibrancy of the town centre, with its mix of independents and chains, is of paramount importance. This requires investment in the town to ensure we can retain the larger stores. The footfall they attract helps support the smaller independent shops.

What opportunity will residents have to shape the developments?

The council is committed to having strong public engagement around the future of the town and its development.


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