DORSET Council is looking at pulling out of South Walks House in Dorchester and moving staff to County Hall.

The idea is being suggested as part of an overall review of the council’s property and land holdings.

Talks had been held about Dorset Police sharing the South Walks office, but the idea has now been shelved.

Although the more modern building is cheaper to run, the County Hall site is larger with adequate car parking, while Government grants may be available to improve its energy efficiency.

Dorset Council is committed to keeping the majority of its staff working largely from home until June and has already said that due to the pandemic and other changes it is likely to need less office space in the future.

The authority has already ended its lease on Princes House, in Dorchester, and at the former East Dorset District Council headquarters on the outskirts of Wimborne, with the former North Dorset District Council offices in Blandford sold for housing.

Dorchester Mayor Richard Biggs says he is worried that the cost of bringing County Hall up to modern standards, in line with the council’s climate and ecological emergency declaration, would cost millions of pounds, compared to the cost of running South Walks House which is well insulated and fitted with solar panels.

However, of the two sites, the more modern South Walks House is likely to be easier to dispose of, should the council eventually choose to do that. Suggestions for the site in the past have included conversion to a hotel or to apartments.

The town’s library and learning centre is expected to stay open.

Dave Thompson, Corporate Director for Property and Assets at Dorset Council. said: “We have been looking at reducing our office estate, as well as how we can use our workspaces in the most effective way so that we best serve our residents, tackle the climate and ecological emergency and support flexible working.

“There are significant savings to be made from consolidating our office space – we estimate that we can save £672,000 per year.

“This year we will be leaving buildings where our lease has ended, such as Allenview House in Wimborne and Princes House in Dorchester. Teams that were based there will be moving to other local offices.

“The saving will also partly be achieved by Dorchester-based employees being based at County Hall, including those at South Walks House (except those at the Library and Learning Centre). County Hall is the best fit as our main office space and can accommodate our Dorchester office-based teams.

“Councillors will discuss the future of South Walks House and other council offices in Dorchester at the Place and Resources Scrutiny Committee in March, then at Cabinet in April.”

The South Walks House building has been controversial since its inception – because of its location and its estimated £10 million cost, compounded by the fact that the former West Dorset District Council failed to reach the £3.5m-plus figure it hoped for when it sold its former headquarters in High West Street.

The district council at the time justified the new building by saying that it would not only provide a better environment for staff, but would save at least £200,000 a year in running costs.