Dorchester's retail projects in the spotlight
Two major retail schemes are set to attract more visitors to a Dorset town, but with doubts hanging over their future and limited parking in the area some residents are concerned they might not deliver what they have promised.
The main square of the £100m Brewery Square development in Dorchester, which is set to include hotels, restaurants and a cinema, was supposed to open this month but has been delayed until next spring due to the wet and windy weather of the summer, which meant cranes were unable to operate.
New council buildings, a library and adult learning centre are being built in Charles Street in the town in the first phase of its regeneration.
However, there are concerns that the £60m plans for phase two, which were approved in 2010 and had been due to include a hotel and an underground public car park, are "not financially viable".
The council's executive committee has now agreed a recommendation to fund up to £2m of preparatory work for phase two, including the relocation of a church from Acland Road to Trinity Street.
This move prompted West Dorset Lib Dem councillor, Ros Kayes, to call for Robert Gould, leader of West Dorset District Council, to resign.
She said there had been "great disquiet" over decisions made about phase two of the revamp.
Mr Gould said the scheme was backed by all three political parties, a claim which Ms Kayes disputed.
Ross Cumber, manager of Taste cafe bistro on Trinity Street, said both developments would "draw business away from the central and north areas of the town centre" and added the existing shopping area should have been redeveloped instead.
Mr Gould said the current development sites offered a "great future" for Dorchester as they would enable it to "continue to grow and evolve".
"At the moment people are going elsewhere to do their shopping," he said, "so if we don't have an attractive retail offer no-one will come here."
Residents in Queen's Avenue and Cromwell Road have voiced concerns about parking in the town centre.
One 66-year-old resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said Queen's Avenue had become "somewhere to park your car within convenient distance of work, the market, town or station", which had been exacerbated by recent parking restrictions in neighbouring streets.
She added an "already bad situation" had been made worse by the closure of 72 short-stay car parking spaces at the Charles Street site.
Jane Cowlishaw, 55, described parking in Dorchester as "pretty evil particularly on a Wednesday when it's market day".
"No matter how attractive the promise of extra shops in the new developments are, the lack of parking in the town means visitors could be deterred from visiting in the first place," she added.
In a letter to Dorchester Town Council, mother-of-two Hayley Gould said trying to find a car parking space on Cromwell Road had become "a daily nightmare".
She added her "biggest concern" was Brewery Square because she anticipated more people would use Cromwell Road to park their cars in the future.
Ashley Newman, 30, who works in the town, said both schemes looked "good on paper" but added the parking pressures as well the increasing population in Poundbury - Dorchester's urban extension - meant "the reality is years of struggle until everything is completed".
Shané Garner, 56, moved to Poundbury with her husband from Lincolnshire in the spring.
She said they decided to "take the plunge" after being impressed with neighbouring Dorchester on previous holidays to Dorset, and welcomed the developments.
"Where other towns are very much in decline, it seems to be on the up here," she said.
Dorchester town crier, Alistair Chisholm, said retail and shopping was "only part of what Dorchester is about".
He added: "A huge amount of the future of this town rests in making more of its extraordinarily long and varied past and its unique literary and legal association - such as Thomas Hardy and the Tolpuddle Martyrs."
Recommendations have been made by the town council to Dorset County Council for parking restrictions in Queen's Avenue for two or four hour maximum stays.
Cromwell Road could also see the introduction of parking restrictions on the bend by the railway station, as well as diagonal parking and a one-way system.
The county council said it had allocated its budget for this financial year so no works could be undertaken until 2013-14.
Mr Gould said the current park and ride facility in the town was "at full capacity" but added it was something the council hoped to develop in the future.
The recommendations made by West Dorset District Council's executive committee for phase two of the Charles Street development are subject to a full council vote on Thursday 25 October.
Although the main square at Brewery Square is delayed until March 2013, Waterhouse Resolution Property said the overall project was "on target", but could not give a completion date because it is a "rolling programme".