Significant investment in Dorchester’s Wednesday market could have to wait almost four years until the existing contract to manage it comes to an end.
Current operator John George from Ensors says he is prepared to make changes and invest in the business – but only if his contract can be extended before the April 2026 deadline.
He has presented a paper to councilors outlining some of the changes which include knocking down walls in the indoor market and making better use of the Linnies, once used as animal pens. He also has ideas to attract more traders.
“Our view is that Dorchester must not be left to drift along for the next three and three quarter years and that we must take action now,” he told a joint markets panel meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
He said that for a decade he had tried to improve investment in the market, but his efforts came to nothing when the former council decided it might have other uses for the area and at that point, although legal agreements were ready to sign, the council backed away.
He was told that the two councils which now run the market, Dorset Council and Dorchester Town Council, were legally unable to extend the lease again and had to put the market operation out to tender ready for the lease ending in 2026.
Said Mr George: “If we have to walk away in April 2026, so be it, but we have done our best for Dorchester and I am absolutely dedicated to Dorchester Market”, describing his offer as “the last throw of the dice as far as Ensors are concerned.”
Panel chair Cllr Mollie Rennie said she hoped that work on how the future market might look could be started by next year with an extraordinary market panel meeting likely to be held in September to get the project underway.
She said that with this financial year’s budget fixed until April 2023 there would be no money to invest until the following year and even that would have to be argued about during the winter budget talks.
She said that over the coming months the two councils would consider how best to spend some of the £42,000 it has accumulated in a maintenance fund to make some short-term improvements.
Dorchester town councilor Tony Lyall said all the time he has sat on the panel it never seemed to make any progress: “I have sat here for 16 years discussing exactly the same subject year in and year out.
“We had West Dorset District Council who didn’t want to put any investment in and now we have Dorset Council doing the same,” he claimed, although was told by Cllr Rennie that while the allegation was true of the former district council, Dorset Council had given no indication that it was not willing to invest in the market.