n 1987, a company by the name of Deva Roman Centre Ltd unsuccessfully applied for planning permission to demolish the grade-II listed Dee House, sitting on the unexcavated half of the Chester Amphitheatre, and, more controversially, to reconstruct a sizeable portion of the site to resemble its imagined appearance in Roman times and run it as a tourist-orientated 'Roman experience'.
"Good ideas never die. What Mussolini did for Rome in the 1930s- sweeping away untidy old medieval and baroque buildings to expose ancient Roman monuments- the good councillors of Chester hope to do in the 1980s. Mussolini, of course, replanned Rome for the benefit of cars, and a misguided reverence for Imperial remains at the expense of later buildings, and to his own greater glory. In Chester it is slightly different: cars are still worshipped- ringroads and relief roads are everywhere- and it is important that the Grosvenor Estate is allowed to develop shopping centres behind every black-and-white facade; but the over-riding aim is the encouragement of yet more tourism.That is what brings in the money.
The case in point is Dee House, in Little St. John Street, a handsome Georgian building which is listed. Messrs Deva Roman Centre Ltd propose to demolish it to allow the excavation of a Roman amphitheatre underneath.
And, in this new amphitheatre, tourists will be able to enjoy a 'Roman experience' and dine in a Roman restaurant. Perhaps Lord Montagu and English Heritage can help by staging the throwing of Christians to the lions- beginning, I suggest, with the Dean and Chapter of Chester.
Soon genteel, smug, picturesque Chester will be nothing but a huge Disneyland surrounded by roads and car parks, a stage set for the tourist and leisure industries. Give me Liverpool any day.