Councillor Calls For Charles Street Update
12:15pm 1st August 2012
A Dorchester Councillor is calling on West Dorset District Council to tell us what's happening with the next stage of the Charles Street Development.
Alistair Chisholm has written an open letter to Council Leader Robert Gould and Chief Executive David Clarke.
Among the questions he wants them to answer are whether Developers Simons now own the whole site of Phase Two, what stage the planning designs are at and when can comment on them.
An Open Letter:
Dear Mr Gould and Mr Clarke
Following the report drawn up by the Council's external auditors (KPMG) with its three (3) recommendations on the need for the Council to be "more pro-active" with both members and the public, many of us are now expecting news on the progress of Phase 2 of the Charles Street project.
We clearly recall the confidence expressed in your earlier literature, mischievously re-issued just before the District Council elections in May 2011;
"The district council offices are a crucial part of the Charles Street development which represents £60 million worth of private investment …….it will bring 660 new jobs………a rare and exciting opportunity…….breathe new life into Dorchester……..helping West Dorset emerge strongly from the recession."
KPMG's report was presented to, and accepted without question by WDDC's Audit and Governance Committee on 28th May 2012. At that meeting the Chief Executive promised that an updated report on Phase Two of the Charles Street development would be produced "in two months" (ie by the end of July 2012).
At the Full Council meeting held on 5th July the Chief Executive informed members that this report would not now be completed before "the autumn".
I believe the council tax payers of West Dorset have a right to know now what is happening with reference to Phase Two of the Charles Street development, not least of all as it is their £15 million which is paying for the new offices, library and adult education centre which comprises Phase One. If a report is not to be issued until "the autumn" may we at least have an answer to the following critical questions:
1. Do Simons (the Council's chosen developer) now own the whole of the site for Phase Two including the north east corner currently occupied by the Community Church ? If not, how can there possibly be any comprehensive development of Phase Two ?
2. Outline planning permission for Phase Two has already been granted. Before work can commence however "detailed" proposals must be submitted. What stage has been reached with these detailed designs and when may the public get the chance to comment on them ?
3. How are Simons currently promoting Phase Two of this scheme given the absence of a website, a brochure or any kind of model ?
4. I understand that Phase Two will go ahead when and if there are sufficient completed pre-lets of the various units within the development. What is the current state of the pre-lettings for Phase Two ?
5. What has happened to the £250,000 loan of our money to Simons "to assist them in their planning submission" ?
6. Have Simons yet raised the money to fund this development and, if so, on what terms ? The answer to this question is particularly important as it appears they may not, as yet, have even acquired the whole of the site.
7. Where are the designs and planning application for the new Community Church to be sited at the southern end of Trinity Street ? Surely this must be completed and occupied before Phase Two can begin ?
8. Has WDDC signed an agreement with the County Council regarding the latter's occupation of a new Dorchester Library and Adult Education Centre ?
As both a council tax payer and as an elected District councillor, I believe the people of West Dorset deserve answers to these important questions. Furthermore, as the KPMG report clearly states, it will be cheaper and more efficient for the Council to be open, honest and transparent in answering these legitimate public questions than for officers' time to be wasted dealing with these questions over and over again as they are asked by different individuals at different times.
Cllr. Alistair Chisholm (Independent)