Bridport should get more car parking out of any future development plans, councillors heard, but this has done little to reassure many living in the town.

At a meeting of West Dorset District Council's strategy committee, council leader Cllr Tony Alford said that if anything ever does happen on either the Tannery Road bus station and car park site, or at Rope Walks car park, the aim will be to add to the overall number of parking spaces in the town.

Both sites have been identified by the district council as potential town centre expansion sites in the long term. This has led to local fears about a potential loss of car parking spaces.

He told councillors at a meeting in Dorchester on Thursday (10) that officers at the district and town council had been talking about the options – but nothing was decided yet.

“Officers are at the very early stage of exploring the feasibility of a development in Bridport which will increase parking provision in the town and at this early stage such work has not yet been subject to discussion, scrutiny, or formal decision,” he said.

“There has been some discussion between officers of the (Bridport) town council and the Dorset Councils Partnership, together with some exploration of how and when to engage more widely with members of the town council and WDDC. When there appears to be scope for progress we will, of course, engage with local members.

“Any proposals are likely to increase the amount of parking and support the town’s economy.”

His response came following a question from Bridport South’s Cllr Dave Rickard who said there had been concern about what was happening following a Bridport News story about the future of both sites.

Mr Alford referred to a report from consultants commissioned to carry out a retail needs assessment on the town and said that whatever was finally decided the council would seek to 'retain appropriate amounts of public car parking,' which he said currently is, and was likely to remain, planning policy.

He said that the consultants have warned of what he described as 'significant barriers' to further development, including the complexity of land ownership and access to the sites from the town centre.

His reply led Cllr Rickard to question whether the district council had 'a pecking order' for developing car parks.

He said Dorchester’s Charles Street car park redevelopment was now 30 years overdue. He said he expected that, just like Dorchester, nothing would happen in Bridport for many years.The two sites together amount to almost 1.5 hectares.

The consultant report suggests that the district council should test the market to see if there is retail demand on either, or both sites.

Speaking after the meeting, a town trader, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "The impact of new shops and the loss of those car parks would be huge. Bridport has a quirky mix of shops and this would upset the balance. There is nowhere to park as it, where would the new spaces be? If it isn't broke, don't fix it."

And a Bridport resident, who also wished to remain anonymous, has raised concerns over the potential loss of the Rope Walks car par specifically, saying: "In Bridport a supermarket on the Waitrose site is completely dependent on the adjacent car park. Without it, no supermarket would occupy this location and town centre visits would all but vanish along with the other businesses dependent on footfall. If that goes, so will large retailers."

The consultant report identifies a number of obstacles to developing either site. Both lie within the Conservation Area. The report says that the Tannery Road site is unlikely to be available for redevelopment over the next 6-10 years while interest in Rope Walks will be curbed by a number of nearby listed buildings and the need to improve access, ideally with a new route off West Street.