'What do we get for bailing out scheme?'
UP to £400,000 of taxpayers' money from Sherborne and nearby villages may have to be spent to save plans for a controversial retail development in Dorset's county town, a councillor has claimed.
West Dorset District Council came under fire this week after senior councillors agreed to set aside up to £2 million to bolster the second phase of the Charles Street development in Dorchester.
The scheme includes retail and accommodation units and space for anchor tenants Marks and Spencer and Waitrose.
A council report has warned that if the authority does not take action, the high street giants could withdraw.
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If the decision is ratified later this month, public money could be pumped into the site to save the project.
Now Sherborne town councillor Matthew Hall claims that cost of this to taxpayers in and around the town could reach hundreds of thousands of pounds.
He said: "Sherborne makes up about a tenth of the council's district, and its surrounding villages are a similar number. So the combined contribution to the £2 million is around £400,000 which could be spent here instead."
The council has already been criticised by an independent auditors report by KPMG for failing to consult with the public on the issue.
Mr Hall said: "There must be full and real public consultation. We will not support any decision being taken until this has taken place.
"What do the people of Sherborne get for their money being spent in this way?"
Bradford Abbas District councillor Robin Legg said he was concerned spending on the Charles Street development could impact council spending elsewhere.
"I think the council has got itself into a hole," he said.
David Clarke, chief executive of West Dorset District Council, said: "The redevelopment of the Charles Street site in Dorchester is a corporate priority for the district council with the potential to bring long awaited improvements, new retail opportunities and jobs to the county town.
A statement from the council added: "The benefits of taking the retail aspect of the Charles Street development forward would reach residents from across the district.
"If the development goes ahead, it would reposition the county town as a sub-regional centre for retail and leisure which would serve the whole of West Dorset and attract visitors and shoppers from even further afield.
"It would bring up to £60 million of private investment to the town and has the potential to create up to 600 jobs which could be filled by people from the wider local area.
"The development also has the potential to create significant income for the council which in time can be reinvested across the district."