Colchester Roman Circus remains to be open to all

Colchester Gazette

By Wendy Brading »

A DEAL has been negotiated which could allow the public daily access to
the site of the starting gates of Colchester’s Roman circus.

History lovers reacted furiously over plans to convert the
Sergeants Mess and its gardens in Le Cateau Road into 11 houses and
four flats.

The concern was over public access to the mess’s gardens – under which are the historic starting gates to the chariot arena.

The site of the circus, the only one to have been found in Britain, has been granted scheduled ancient monument status.

As part of the planning application for the homes, a proposal was
drawn up to allow the public access to the garden on set days each year
– but protesters claimed it was not enough.

Now, after months of careful negotiations, a new proposal has been drawn up.

The scheme suggests Taylor Wimpey leasing the gardens to Colchester Council for about £4,500 a year.

The council would take on responsibility for marking out the site
of the gates and maintaining the area – and it would allow the public
daily access to the site.

Alistair Day, conservation and design officer for Colchester Council, said: “The area would be policed in so far as it would be opened
from about 9am or 10am and closed at dusk.

“Outside these times there will be access to the residents but not for the general public.

“Taylor Wimpey is firmly of the view you need to try to respect the
Victorian heritage and believe the garden is fundamental to the setting
of the building and that the two should remain together.

“However, they are broadly in agreement with the proposal for a quasi public-private garden.”

The cost of the project is still being finalised. The council would
have to agree to a lease, the cost of maintaining the area and
employing someone to lock and unlock the gates each day.

The proposal is due to be considered by Colchester Council next month.

Colchester Council‘s portfolio holder for culture, tourism and diversity Theresa Higgins met with Robert Taylor, project manager for the
Garrison development with Taylor Wimpey, in June.

She said: I was not happy with the fact the site was only open to the public four times a year. We wanted more than that.

“We have managed to get a deal so we can get 365 day access. It is important to have this.

“I will be asking my colleagues to support this, it is really important for Colchester.

“I am pleased with what has been achieved and Taylor Wimpey should also be congratulated for the turn around.

“We havethe oldest town in Britain and the only circus and we should be letting the public have access to it.

“This is our only chance – I hope we can sort it out.”

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