Regeneration plans move forward for Dorchester offices

RTI Estates Ltd is looking to deliver Dorchester’s first open-market build-to-rent project at a landmark site in the town centre.

RTI – part of the forward-thinking Dorchester-based property company Redtale Holdings – is set to convert offices at Vespasian House at the top o’ town into 37 apartments for up to 144 people in a £11m phase, as part of its ongoing regeneration of the historic Barrack Quarter area.

Vespasian House will be converted into a mixture of one, two and three bed apartments including penthouse apartments in what is currently the loft.

RTI, which owns the freehold of the office complex and surrounding land, is aiming to provide high quality, flexible short and long-term secure rental accommodation.

The repurposing of Vespasian house into family homes comes as NHS organisations based in the building are considering alternative arrangements to co-locate with local partners.

RTI has notified Dorset Council of its intention to convert the entire building and loft of Vespasian House under permitted development rights where the change of use is already acceptable in principle.

Chief executive Malcolm Curtis said: “Vespasian House is a key, brownfield site in a highly sustainable location in Dorchester town centre.

“We have been advised by the NHS that they are looking at alternative arrangements to co-locate with local partners.

“With their departure, we have looked at how we can repurpose the building in a positive way for the community and local economy as part of our wider ongoing regeneration of the Barrack Quarter.

“We are exploring the possibility of delivering rental homes, with flexible leases from six months up to five years that provide families not only high quality modern sustainable homes but also provide flexible and secure tenures not normally associated with the rental sector.

“We believe that with demand for rental properties being so high, this would be an ideal, long-term sustainable repurposing of Vespasian House.

“Being so close to the nearby hospital, transport links and all the town centre amenities, it would further support the revitalisation of Dorchester town centre and make a valuable contribution to the chronic under supply of rental homes in the county town.”

The scheme is part of RTI’s urban regeneration of Dorchester’s historic Barrack Quarter at the top o’ town.

This has already included a £2.4m development of Barrack House in the northwest corner of the site with nine key worker apartments let to NHS workers and their families.

It has also converted former quartermaster’s stores into five townhouses and two apartments for open market sale.

RTI has previously gained planning consent for a residential extension to Vespasian House and a mixed-used building with apartments and commercial space. These plans are unaffected by the plans for further accommodation.

Conversion of Vespasian House would include parking although RTI has a keen focus on sustainability in the design, construction and use of all its developments, including low and zero carbon technologies.

National permitted development policies – often known as ‘prior approval’ – for conversion of offices and other types of commercial properties into homes were first introduced in 2013 and mean change of use is acceptable in principle.

Applications are required to meet certain criteria, which have been further eased since the pandemic and onset of remote and hybrid working as well as the decline of town centres.

According to latest figures from the House of Commons Library, a total of 102,830 new homes were delivered through change of use permitted development rights from 2015 to 2023 in England.

Build-to-rent is a term that describes purpose-built housing designed for rent rather than sale.

Build to rent homes are not sold to owner-occupiers or build-to-let landlords but are owned and managed by the developer or operator.

Build-to-rent is a growing sector in the UK housing market that aims to meet the demand for high-quality, well-managed rental housing.

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