Criticism over West Dorset District Council's Stratton House sale

Stratton House in Dorchester
Image caption The Stratton House site was "unfit for purpose", according to West Dorset District Council

Opposition councillors have criticised a Dorset council after its old office premises sold for less than half the original target.

West Dorset District Council's Stratton House site in Dorchester was on the market for £3.5m but sold for £1.5m.

In December, the authority moved to new £9.7m premises on Charles Street.

The authority admitted the sale amount was lower than expected but added it had not been reliant on the sale to move to South Walks House.

Independent Councillor Alistair Chisholm said he was "furious" about the matter, after it was raised at a full council meeting on Thursday.

"Overall, it means the move to Charles Street has cost the council considerably more and will, therefore, take considerably longer to make up," he said.

Councillors agreed to sell the Stratton House site to the highest bidder, in December, after it failed to reach its £3.5m target.

'Protect key services'

The authority said its new offices were completed £1m under budget and meant an annual estimated saving of £224,000 in running costs.

It added the relocation had also helped reduce its gas consumption by a third and its electricity use by 40%.

Council leader Robert Gould said this would help the council to "protect key services and keep council tax down".

He added: "Although the sale amount is lower than originally expected, the council was not reliant upon the sale of the Stratton House campus to fund the building of South Walks House.

Image caption The council moved into new offices on Charles Street in December last year

"Money from the sale of Stratton House will now be available to fund other capital projects that we may wish to undertake in the future."

Lib Dem Councillor Ros Kayes, who has previously called for Mr Gould to resign over the Charles Street development, said: "Selling the Stratton House site at 43% of its original value is like selling the family silver at less than its worth.

"The taxpayer has had a low return on an investment and it has also reduced the amount of money the council now has to invest in capital projects.

"Plus, there is still no start date for the retail plan of the Charles Street development".

Phase one of the development, which includes the council offices, a library and an adult learning centre, began in June 2011.

There had been concerns 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, were "not financially viable".

Revised proposals for 24 flats in place of the hotel have since been approved by councillors.

The council has said it is progressing with plans for the next phase of the development after agreeing in October to fund up to £2m towards preparatory work, which includes relocating Dorchester Community Church from Acland Road to Trinity Street.

The authority said it is currently "in discussions" with the church but added a final design would be subject to planning permission.

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