As an officer of the Canal Basin Forum I was invited to a meeting about
the amphitheatre hosted at the Civic Trust HQ in Bishop Lloyd's Palace. It
was made clear that planning permission to build on the amphitheatre was for
offices (Bl development) not a public building which will have a constant
Why then is Chester City Council not using their enforcement powers to control its unlawful building? Could it be because the developer is paying for refurbishment of the council's building on the same site?
Gordon Emery, 27 Gladstone Road, Chester www.gordonemery.com
17/3/00 A stranger reading our local
newspaper would think this is a city in turmoil.
The Points of View columns are full of letters against the council- i.e. the Roman Amphitheatre, CDTS busway project, transfer of council housing, and the imposition of parking funds.
Mix into this allegations of secret meetings, the changing of planning permission without reference to councillors, then the most destructive force of all, party politics entering the arena.
This illustrates how badly we need reform in local government. What is needed is: annual voting, directly elected Mayors, referendums. As we can see from events, there is hostility among politicians to the idea of people participating directly in decision making. Yes, referendums can produce the wrong result, but so can councils. A referendum campaign shakes the place up, it confronts voters with real choices, and educates people in democracy.
Perhaps then we could start moving towards more community politics, and we can shrug off that mentality where we feel they have won another of their mysterious victories.
F W Campbell, Handbridge, Chester
17/3/00 I wish to join the increasing
storm of protest concerning the extraordinary
decision to build an office block on part of one of the most important Roman
remains in Britain.
Senior members of Chester City Council tell us how well it has looked after Chester's historic remains. In my experience of tourism, both professionally and semi-professionally, I have observed much wringing of hands by those in political control of our tourism policies as to how York achieves such vast numbers of visitors while Chester, with a similar historical background, trails well behind.
Like Bob Clough-Parker, I haven't met anyone who thinks the council is acting responsibly or taking account of the views of citizens. Most want it fully excavated for display as a major visitor attraction.
York, I believe, would have excavated the complete amphitheatre many years ago as a substantial historical monument to attract visitors, and without hiding behind English Heritage- a remarkably convenient get-out clause.
If all that is what our City Fathers mean when they say they are looking after our heritage, then they are in good company and future generations will be heaping curses on them too. Will we awake one morning to find that the Cathedral, Town Hall and Walls have been demolished?
I would no longer be surprised. Chester deserves better. Shame on you, council.
John Lindop, Duddon Common
17/3/00 Letter sent to Chester city
councillor Eveleigh Moore Dutton, of Tushingham Hall, Tushingham.
I have read of the proposals to build the new county court building partly over the Roman amphitheatre.
Before reading law at university I studied classics at school- with a particular interest in ancient history. After leaving school I took part in an archaeological field course. I also spent my 21st birthday at Mycenae.
While I am fully aware of the need for a new county court building, I very much regret the proposal to site that building partly ovor the amphitheatre.
I remember when I first came to Chester the debate over re-routing the inner ring road to bypass the present uncovered part of the amphitheatre and I am sure the correct decision was made at that time- to divert the road so as to avoid the amphitheatre. I always hoped that at some time in the future the opportunity of uncovering the whole of the amphitheatre would arise.
When travelling in Greece during my university days, I visited a number of amphitheatres and was totally impressed by them. The thought of there being such an amphitheatre in Chester- even on a reduced scale- was something that I had hoped to see during my lifetime.
I note that English Heritage believes that the remains of the amphitheatre will not be damaged by being built over. That is not the point. Once the amphitheatre has been built over by the new county court building the opportunity of wholly uncovering the amphitheatre will have been lost for very many generations. In effect, the possibility of uncovering the whole amphitheatre will have been lost forever.
My views are based not only on my archaeological interest in the site but also because of my knowledge of the role of tourism in the economy of Chester.
The amphitheatre- particularly if eventually fully uncovered- would be a magnificent attraction to tourists. Tourism must not only be regarded as a means of attracting visitors but also of informing visitors to Chester of the history and the importance of our city, not only at the present time, but through the whole of not only the modern history but also the ancient history of this country since Roman times.
Alan McAllester, Birch Cullimore Solicitors, White Friars, Chester
17/3/00 We refer to your letter dated
February 27 concerning the ominous threat relating to the Roman amphitheatre.
Chester is a very special and unique city which offers some of the most valuable tourism sites in the country. The opportunity of further developing the Roman amphitheatre is an excellent one which we would wholeheartedly support. The threat of it being built over to provide a new county court building is quite horrific.
J W Lees has a great deal of interest in Chester. We own three buildings and businesses in the city centre which turn over in the region of £3m and employ more than 30 full-time and 50 part-time staff. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to further support your very worth cause in wishing to preserve and develop the Roman amphitheatre for future generations.
Simon Lees-Jones, J W Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd, Greengate Brewery, Middleton Junction, Manchester
17/3/00 Thank you for your letter of
February 27 regarding the Roman amphitheatre in Chester.
While I understand that it is not possible to uncover the remains of the amphitheatre
at present I would have thought the possibility ought to be left open for
the future and that nothing meanwhile should be done to prejudice future work. The proposed county court appears to use only a small area of the amphitheatre
but enough to prejudice any future possible opening up. There must be some
other site available.
Whatever care is taken from an archaelogical aspect in any proposed building, some damage to the Roman structure seems inevitable. The views of English Heritage on this do not seem to be shared universally.
Henry Birch JP DL, Towcester, Northants
17/3/00 I am saddened that Liberal
Democrat councillor Graham Proctor should see fit to make party political
points on such an important matter as the future of the amphitheatre
(Chronicle, City edition, March 10). It is true that Conservative prospective
candidate, David Jones, and Conservative leader, Brian Bailey, have been prominent
in the campaign to save the amphitheatre, but so what? If Cllr Proctor really
cared about Chester, he would put aside political differences and join them,
rather than make snide comments from the sidelines.
A little more cross-party co-operation would make Chester a much more pleasant place to live in.
Stephen Moseley, Pyecroft Street, Handbridge, Chester 17/3/00 I suggest a list of names of all the councillors on Chester City Council planning committee whose vote supported the present amphitheatre fiasco should be recorded in the minutes. Then they can suffer the shame which will undoubtedly arise when the Corporation considers the increased exploitation of the city's Roman remains to encourage tourism.
K W L Starkie, Greenacres Court, Upton, Chester
17/3/00 I would like to add my protest
letter to those in your issue of March 10
(Chronicle, City edition) regarding
the vandalising of the Roman amphitheatre.
I am new to Chester, only 15 years, but I can at least recognise stupidity when I see it. How is it possible the long-term gain, if only financial, can be sacrificed for such a trivial temporary return?
I understand some pretty awful things were done to the city before I arrived. I just hope I don't have to witness another.
Dorothy Rose, Greenacres Court, Acres Lane, Chester
17/3/00 The reports in The Chronicle
detailing the proposed building of a county court,
partly over Chester's Roman amphitheatre, remind me of the 'golden era' of
civic vandalism in the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, an irreplaceable depth
and range of the architectural fabric of our society was torn down, in the
name of progress. Perhaps the parties involved should consider widespread
public contempt for the planners of that era.
James Medley, Gyfelia, Wrexham
23/3/00 Letter to Chester MP Christine
Russell re The future of Dee House/The Amphitheatre, Chester
The people of Chester simply cannot believe the catalogue of disastrous decisions that have been made regarding the amphitheatre site. They are also shocked by the suddenness of recent developments, and by the information that decisions regarding planning permission for McLean's development were made in 1995.
Development of the site might never have taken place had a wealthy tenant not emerged in the shape of the County Court. The change in function from an office block to a court, the quietness with which this took place, the fact that councillors were not informed until December 1999, the speed with which the developer started working in January- all contriving to prevent public reaction- are all viewed with suspicion and distaste.
I am writing in the hope that the situation can yet be redeemed at this late stage.
The excavation of the amphitheatre and its subsequent promotion are essential to maintaining the status of Chester on the tourist route of Britain- and that is essential to maintaining the number of high quality visitors and the revenue they generate. The possible excavation of the amphitheatre can only be facilitated by removal of Dee House. With a grade II listed building on the site any potential development plans fail because of the obstacle created by this building.
Proposed plans to renovate Dee House and turn it into offices and a restaurant put off, indefinitely, any possible further excavation to the site. I have met with no enthusiasm for this proposal. Someone must have the courage to break the circular argument by recommending demolition of Dee House.
Visitors will not travel from the opposite side of the world to have a meal in yet another building in Chester- but would come to see a well managed archaeological dig in the middle of the city. It would be a magnet for tourists both national and international, new visitors and past visitors. Executed over many years it would be a huge boost to Chester's economy, fighting as it is against the impact of out-of-town shopping centres and the potential of internet shopping.
Once Dee House is out of discussion it then makes sense to approach McLeans and request sensitive treatment of the amphitheatre by reducing the size of their ground floor to avoid impinging on the four per cent of the amphitheatre structure. McLean has responded very positively in the past to requests to consider the amphitheatre- surely if they saw CCC deciding to take their share of the pain in demolish ing Dee House, McLean would be co-operative?
One is left with the easier issue of finding a new place for the car park for the court building occupants. One can imagine several healthy alternatives which could be discussed. There is still hope for this project. Please can you act on behalf of the citizens you represent?
Dr Liane Smith, 37 Mount Way Waverton, Chester
24/3/00 I express my outrage at the
vandalism of Chester City Council when permission
was given to build a new county court over the unexcavated portion of the
If there is a proven need for a new county court building (and I cannot see what is lacking in the fine present building), there must be other more appropriate sites which could be considered.
I fail to see why the amphitheatre should be put out of reach for an inestimable period of years. Surely Chester's main industry is tourism? Can the planners be so blind to the fact that a complete amphitheatre is far more of a tourist attraction than half an amphitheatre?
Apart from the wealth of archeological evidence that is waiting to be unearthed, an entire amphitheatre could be a wonderful setting for outdoor entertainments to be staged, following the innovative concert last summer.
I hope you will now take notice of the strong public feeling against this monstrous proposal.
Marguerite Turner, Tattenhall, Chester 24/3/00 When did Chester City Council lose the plot to complete the excavation of the amphitheatre?
As part of the plan for the redevelopment of Chester, published by Chester City Council in August 1945, the proposal for the area said "The excavation of the amphitheatre in Little St John Street would bring to light a fine historical monument and record of the Roman occupation".
Since then, somewhere along the way, the vision to complete the excavation has been lost.
Why was it that when permission to demolish Dee House was received, the work was not undertaken for the good of the city?
Why was it that planning permission was given for an office block in the area of the amphitheatre when there was no foreseeable occupant for such a building?
It was only shortly before planning permission expired that an occupant in the form of the courts appeared.
If Chester is to maintain its position as a premier tourist destination then it must not be allowed to let the opportunity of complete excavation slip.
How much better to have the only amphitheatre in Britain than only half of one! Imagine Chester with only half its city walls!
Let's come to our senses before it is too late and compete with York and Bath as the number one destination outside London. Those two cities must be watching our recent ineptness with incredulity.
David Andrews, Long Lane, Waverton
24/3/00 As a former Cestrian who still
visits the city regularly I have been intrigued and dismayed by the situation
regarding the Roman amphitheatre.
The correspondence in the local Press has been overwhelmingly in favour of the removal of Dee House and the excavation of the other half of the amphitheatre, yet the wishes of the people apparently count for nought.
Not pursuing the excavation of the other half of this important monument surely constitutes an abrogation of responsibility on the part of English Heritage and a betrayal of the vision and hard work of all those who strove to save it from destruction in the 1930s.
Might I propose the following five point action plan which should be pursued quickly and vigorously:
1. Find a financial backer to buy out McLean. A possible benefactor lives on the city's doorstep. I see from the Sunday Times (March 19) that the Duke of Westminster is now at the top of the list of the country's wealthiest people with a fortune estimated at £3,750 million.
Alternatively, what about those businesses who have their headquarters on the Chester Business Park, supposedly attracted to the city by its historic character?
2. Form a charitable trust with a board of trustees, whose purpose would be the excavation and display of the entire amphitheatre and the construction of a site museum.
The city council to lease Dee House and its grounds to the Trust at a peppercorn rent thus placing all parts of the site under the control of one organisation.
3. Obtain permissions to demolish Dee House and excavate the rest of the scheduled monument. Prepare detailed plans for excavation and display.
4. Carry out excavation with maximum possible public access including regular updates in wide range of media and live reports on the Internet.
5. Display of remains after conservation. Opening of new museum featuring latest display technology.
The excavation of the amphitheatre would be a stupendously interesting project.
So come on citizens and businesses of Chester! Prove that, just like Sextus Marcianus who set up an altar in the amphitheatre's shrine 2,000 years ago, you have vision.
Dr Desmond O'Connor, Tramere, Co Waterford Eire
24/3/00 I write as a Cheshire man
who has lived here for 75 years. I have only
recently been alerted to the threat to the unexcavated section of the Roman
I am absolutely appalled that steps are not being taken to complete the excavation. It is a unique opportunity which must on no account be missed.
I cannot understand why it was not done long ago after the decision had been taken to proceed with first phase by pulling down the old county council offices, etc.
The place could be developed into something of immense benefit to the citizens of Chester and the local community over a wide area.
I understand that most of the area will merely be a car park for some new law courts. What is wrong with the old law courts, which have such immense dignity and history?
If it is a question that the county court lease is due to expire, surely there must be a way round this and what other possible use could be put to this listed building? It has to be a waste of public money to replace them.
If such a huge sum of money can be raised from private means for the construction of the Millennium Dome, it should not be beyond our ingenuity to raise sufficient funds to recreate the Chester Roman Amphitheatre in its entirety.
If permission for 'office development' has already been given irrevocably by Chester city councillors they should hang their heads for ever in shame.
It is never too late for such a decision to be completely overturned for the benefit of the community. If private interests are involved, compensation can readily be made and would be minimal compared with the overall advantage.
Ideally the site should be fully restored, developed and run for the public good of Chester.
Who better than the Chester Civic Trust to come to the rescue? This is must be just the sort of thing for which the Trust was created: to prevent ill thought-out schemes from being implemented.
Our generation must not be the one which posterity would blame for such a crime, for that is what it would be.
Gordon Fergusson, Sandy Brow, Tarporley
24/3/00 As a supplier to the tourist
industry on the outskirts of Chester and as a person who has grown up and
lived around Chester most of his life, I find it unbelievable that the Chester
City Council planners have seen fit to allow the building of a county court
and its associated car park over the buried remainder of Chester's unique
Chester is visited and admired by many and the number one question we are always asked, when people stay with us, is when are the powers-that-be going to expose the other half of the amphitheatre, as it is such a shame there is only one half exposed.
If we are led to believe that it is better to leave the remainder of this unique amphitheatre buried, by English Heritage, then surely the rest of the Roman remains of Chester would be better left covered.
We would then not need to bother about any of them and we could build indiscriminately over all of them, as they will always be there in the future to unearth, unless English Heritage lists the next building built over those Roman ruins.
Unfortunately the new county court will not be situated in the right place as it is neither near to the bus or rail terrninuses which Chester City Council is always asking us to use, Iike its Park & Ride facilities.
In another 20 or so years, Chester will not be used so much by its local population for shopping due to Internet on-line buying and the fact that most of us are now using the out-of town large supermarket stores.
Tourism will be Chester's main asset then and where will the rest of the Roman amphitheatre be, due to the shortsightedness of Chester's city council?
The jewel in Chester's crown will be under a court and a car park!
J J Marks, Huxley, Chester
24/3/00 Working as I do in Winchester,
a city that has lost all traces of its Roman past,
I was saddened to hear of the proposal to build over the Roman amphitheatre
Given that remains of substantial Roman structures are not in plentiful supply in this country I find it hard to believe that an alternative site for the county court cannot be found.
The principle of not carrying out rescue archaeology that can better be left to future generations is well-established.
Surely, however, here is a case for learning from the success of for instance, Provence, in making the most of the tourist potential of its Roman past.
I only hope that the city council can demonstrate the vision and imagination to see the unique value of the amphitheatre rather than treating it as just another development site.
David Ashe, Shoe Lane, Upham, Southampton
24/3/00 Chester city Council will
be making a grave mistake if it allows the proposed county court and car park
to be built over the Roman amphitheatre.
Major archaeological sites in cities such as Chester should be treasured and enhanced, not buried under buildings and car parks that could be erected elsewhere. County courts do not need to be in the centre of cities.
I am staggered to hear that there has been no public inquiry. Were the developers hoping that the plan could be slipped through on the quiet?
Plans should be called in immediately, work on site halted, and a public inquiry convened as soon as possible. The city deserves no less.
Daphne Phillips, Stanton Long, Much Wenlock, Shropshire
24/3/00 I understand that there is
an intention to give planning permission
to erect a county court on the site of Chester's Roman amphitheatre.
Please register my objection to this as it seems totally inappropriate.
There was enough difficulty over excavating the first part of the Roman amphitheatre which involved the sacrifice of a quite fine building (St. John's House) but it seems utterly foolish in view of Chester's position as a leading tourist centre and Roman City to destroy the chances of excavating the full arnphitheatre at last.
W Rae Cullimore, Faulkners Lodge, Christleton 30/3/00 During the last two weeks articles have appeared in our local papers which have stated the interest of the city's MP, the council and the council planning officer in seeking the views of the public on a number of issues prior to coming to decisions. I find this very laudable but it presents a stark contrast with the attitude of these people with regards to the amphitheatre.
The citizens have not been consulted over this matter and in fact the council appears to be doing its utmost to ignore and treat with contempt the massive number of letters of complaint.
I note that Cheshire County Council, in their 'Update Spring 2000 Chester Edition', state "We are here to help you. Our services are funded by your taxes. But could they be provided in a better way? By law you must be given a chance to say what each local authority should be doing and how. We have to make it clear what is being done, to what extent and to what standard, what will not be done and why- and how we intend to improve our performance year after year".
The same statement should surely apply to Chester City Council and it is simply because the council has failed to apply the above regarding the amphitheatre that there is such a widespread feeling of injustice and outrage.
The council, English Heritage, the developer and the court authorities appear to have stitched up a deal and simply imposed it upon the public without debate or consultation.
There is no one to appeal to for justice in this matter since the obvious authorities that should be opposing this building scheme are the ones who have been instrumental in its support and advancement! Is it any wonder that the general public regard this matter with such frustration and anger?
The council is funded by our taxes and should be accountable to us. Why are they not listening and responding?
John Smith, 37 Mount Way, Waverton, Chester
31/3/00 Without question, Chester has
one of the most important Roman archaeological sites in the whole country.
It is an asset that has been buried far too long, and the nation has been
deprived of its archaeological significance.
The amphitheatre could promote Chester to the high status it deserves as an outstanding city of interest.
To develop this site to anything but a whole amphitheatre would be falling short of the standard of correctness- it would be wanton hooliganism.
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, should be made fully aware of the need to excavate this site, and not have a county court building erected there.
The life of the Cheshire Constabulary Headquarters at the Castle Esplanade is very limited, and I understand there have been recent thoughts of the Constabulary moving to a more centralised place in the county.
If this materialises, then surely the Castle Esplanade site would be the ideal place for the new county court? It would be opposite the new magistrates' court and the existing crown courts. All the courts would be together, and more easily serviced. This surely would be a more practical solution, or does the city council, without vision, have plans to build an ugly block of offices or a hotel overlooking the racecourse?
The present Esplanade building is an absolute eyesore, and another could replace it, but a well designed courthouse in keeping with the locality would be more acceptable.
If the Lord Chancellor has a profound interest in where the county court is located, then he should be fully appreciative of the situation, and asked not to support the renting or building of a court on the amphitheatre site.
Peter Bond, Saughall
31/3/00 During the last two weeks articles
have appeared which have stated the interest
of the city's MP, the council and the council planning officer in seeking
the views of the public on a number of issues prior to coming to decisions.
I find this very laudable but it presents a stark contrast with the attitude of these people with regard to the amphitheatre.
The citizens have not been consulted over this matter and the council appears to be doing its utmost to ignore and treat with contempt the massive number of letters of complaint.
I note that Cheshire County Council in its Update Spring 2000 (Chester Edition) states: "We are here to help you. Our services are funded by your taxes. But could they be provided in a better way? By law you must be given a chance to say what each local authority should be doing and how. We have to make it clear what is being done, to what extent and to what standard, what will not be done and why- and how we intend to improve l our performance year after year".
The same statement should surely apply to Chester City Council, and it is simply because the council has failed to apply the above regarding the amphitheatre that there is such a widespread feeling of injustice and outrage.
The council, English Heritage, the developer and the court authorities appear to have stitched up a deal and simply imposed it upon the public without debate or consultation.
There is no-one to appeal to for justice in this matter since the obvious authorities who should be opposing this building scheme are the ones who have been instrumental in its support and advancement.
Is it any wonder that the general public regard this matter with such frustration and anger?
The council is funded by our taxes and should be accountable to us. Why are they not listening and responding?
It is time for a public inquiry to be opened to investigate the whole affair. In the meantime, the developer would be wise to stop further work.
John Smith, Waverton
"We see this as a win, win, win situation"
Andrew Farrall, Head of Planning, Chester City council, January 2000
"Opposition to the project is sending out all the wrong
messages to people who might be considering investing in Chester...
You can debate this all you want but you can't stop it...."
Andrew Farrall, Head of Planning, Chester City Council, April 2000
"It was a mistake, and we were all to blame"
Tory Group Leader Cllr Brian Bailey, April 2000
"We are witnessing an act of grotesque and needless cultural
vandalism. What I saw in Chester beggars belief. No other country in the Western World would contemplate what is happening
Shadow Culture Minister, Peter Ainsworth MP, May 2000
Make your Mind Up
"We have been given the gift of another opportunity to
uncover the amphitheatre. Losing a Grade II listed building would be a price
worth paying... This is one of the most important things to be debated by
this council, certainly in my time... This is the council's moment of history.
We must go for it..."
Chester City Council and Labour Grour Leader John Price 13th November 1998
(The decision to demolish Dee House)
"... is the worst possible one. It takes no account of reality and
is likely to be hugely expensive"
John Price 4th July 2000
What the People Think
"Why not get a couple of lions from Chester Zoo and see how our elected representatives will fare in half an amphitheatre with not much room to manoeuvre? Daniel made it- why shouldn't the people of Chester?"
A recent corresponent in the local press
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