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The Amphitheatre VI

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

The Amphitheatre part VII

The Amphitheatre VIII

Back to parts 1 | 01 | II | III | IV | V | VI On to parts VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | Gallery | 2 On to St. John's Church

"With Cheshire Police vacating its huge Chester HQ, shouldn't this 1960s carbuncle on the inner ring road be demolished? If not, how about converting it into the new courthouse instead of David McLean's dismal new erection which now covers half the Roman amphitheatre, scuppering plans to fully excavate this internationally-renowned site. McLean's courthouse's cramped central position will create appalling traffic problems that negate the council's traffic management strategy"
'Brocklebank: Talk from the Town', Liverpool Daily Post, January 17th 2001

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The following statement, entitled "Chester Amphitheatre- Living Partnership" was released by David McLean Developments Ltd (of Vintner House, 28 Parkway, Deeside Industrial Park, Deeside, Flintshire CH5 2NS. Telephone 01244 283500 Fax 01244 283553)- on Tuesday 7th November 2000.

Considering the low esteem in which the company was now held by many as a result of their office / courthouse development on the amphitheatre and in the light of all that had gone before, many felt that, as an exercise in self interest and sheer nerve, it surely took some beating...

"David McLean Developments Ltd are promoting calls for a real debate on the future of the Chester Amphitheatre site and Dee House. In order to stimulate a meaningful debate David McLean has outlined a series of broad concepts to encourage public discussion.
The company is backing full evaluation of the financial, physical and legal issues. It believes its ideas offer something which the people of Chester can readily embrace and provide an opportunity for Chester City Council to choose a viable and deliverable future for the site.
courthouse and hypocaustDavid McLean is anxious to widen the debate and move it on from such polarised choices as 'Excavate or Retain', 'Demolish or Refurbish'. It wants its proposals for this City Centre site, surrounded by Roman, Medieval, Victorian and modern buildings, to be the catalyst for public discussion and consultation".

Right: November 2000: Behind the remains of a Roman hypocaust- a 2,000 year old underfloor heating system- the bulk of McLean's courthouse approaches the completion of its final artless form.

"At the heart of the proposals is a vibrant partnership between the private sector, the public, pressure groups and the Council (which owns Dee House). For the first time the public will have the chance to consider a range of options on the practicalities and the costs.

Specifically, the proposals look at the whole amphitheatre site in its widest context, which encompasses the River leading to Roman Gardens and the shops, and the Roman walls leading to St. John's Church and Grosvenor Gardens. Detailed areas of discussion will include pedestrian crossing, traffic calming, public and disabled access.

The outline plan also deals with the comprehensive and sympathetic refurbishment of the Grade II listed Dee House to include cafes, bars and restaurants.

One of the most exciting aspects are suggestions for a Living Archaeological Interpretation of the progressive excavation works. This could perhaps be a raised public viewing area and courtyard from where visitors can see the works beneath them. This would be unique in Britain.
This would help put the amphitheatre in its correct historical context and highlight Chester through the ages. This is where the involvement of organisations such as the Chester Amphitheatre Trust, the Civic Trust and English Heritage will be essential.

To achieve sustainability and viability the chosen option has to be deliverable in the short- medium and long term. There must be a realistic way of financing capital costs and ensuring the projct is self-financing to meet annual running costs. lt will also be necessary to obtain the necessary legal consents. This can provide a path for futher excavation in the short and medium term, leading to possible full excavation. No one has offered this before.

McLean's overall strategy is:
• To refurbish Dee House properly and avoid Chester City Council spending £250,000 to make the property safe.
• To generate cash to invest in the amphitheatre (up to £500,000)
• To generate rents to pay for running costs (over £20,000 per annum to the city)
• To provide continuing free admission to the amphitheatre
• To provide a framework which enables grants and corporate sponsorship to be raised for the excavation
• To raise funds for later stages of the project.

The timescale for this is:

• Short term (over the next two years): To generate cash to spend on the amphitheatre and to prepare a long-term funding strategy.

• Medium term (2-50 years): To generate annual rental income, create progressive excavation work, develop visitor numbers to cafes and bars, to organise performances in the amphitheatre and to develop a continuous fundraising exercise.

• Long term (beyond 50 years): To complete a freehold purchase of the site and begin full excavation.

A central feature of McLean's plans is to explore and evaluate the creation of an outdoor performance arena which will enable the exposed part of the amphitheatre to be enhanced and maximised to attract tourists and other visitors. It will feature removable seating, lighting, acoustic screens and canopies to be used on a 'plug in, use and dismantle' basis.

But the real excitement comes with the excavation process itself. David McLean believes it is vital to invest in the journey and not just the destination. That is why the overall strategy has been designed as a route map towards total excavation but allows Dee House and unexcavated portions to generate income In the meantime.

David McLean's key wish is that factionalism and party politics does not get in the way of achieving the right solution for Chester. We believe the Chester Amphitheatre Trust and the whole excavation debate during the summer have both become top heavy with politics. It is time for a wider discussion in which the city can decide what it wants for the future".

amphitheatre model
Pretty ambitious stuff, we're sure you'll agree. And also extraordinarily presumptuous considering they don't own the amphitheatre or most of the land involved and were never likely to!
Interestingly, around the time of the publication of the above, McLean's actually sold the leasehold of the courthouse site- to whom we're not yet aware- for a period of one hundred and fifty years, but have themselves retained the freehold.

Right: a model to illustrate McLean's 'vision'- or, as they prefer to call it, the 'Arena Concept', which briefly went on public display at the St. John Street branch of the Post Office during January 2001 (see bottom of page)- and which the local press aptly referred to as a "builders-eye view of the amphitheatre". Quite.

Note the large white object at the back- the carefully blanked-out courthouse. Were McLean's not then proud of their newly-erected building? Note also how Dee House remains in situ and how half an amphitheatre remains just that: half an amphitheatre. No new sections have been exposed- indeed, there would indeed appear to be precious little room left among all the prettiness for any of the promised "ongoing" archaeological excavations...

And once again, to nobody's great surprise, little notice would appear to have been taken of the clearly-expressed wishes of Chester's people regarding the future of this unique site.

chester guided walksThe silly stage affair atop the new dividing wall, a wealth of 'De Figueiredo'-style lamps, railings and bollards, and an undistinguished, unfinished-looking, structure along the far side, housing the planned "cafes, bars and restaurants" shows this 'exciting concept' to be the same tired old plan McLean's were pushing back in November 1999- and which was overwhelmingly rejected by councillors in July 2000.

What McLean's really wanted, it seemed clear, were the profits be gained by their planned commercial development of Dee House- in theory considerable should their brand-new, but undersized, courthouse next door run out of office space. But profits only realisable by getting their hands on a long (200-year?) lease on Dee House from the city council- a council, we would remind you, who have already voted to demolish the building.

The rest is merely showy wrapping designed to fool the gullible into thinking the company gives a damn for Chester's heritage.

On 18th January 2001, due to numerous complaints from the public, the model was removed by the Post Office's manager- after all of two days on display. Perhaps McLean's lying claim in the supplied information and 'have your say' forms that their 'Arena Concept' was developed "in consultation" with the Chester Amphitheatre Trust, Chester in Concert and the Civic Trust may have had something to do with it.

McLean's development director, Mark Thomas told yet another porky to the local press when he claimed that "there have been some ill-mannered people who have attempted to make some noise in the post office which has disrupted their operation... You cannot legislate for how people behave in public".

The easily-confirmed truth is that no such 'disruption' ever took place- and what the remark about 'not being able to legislate for how people behave in public' was meant to imply is anybody's guess- laws against public disorder (had such actually occured) having been around long before the amphitheatre itself was built. McLean's information was inaccurate, they knew it, and people told them so. Once again they seemed to have disastrously underestimated the public's knowledge and strength of feeling over the issue. When one seeks to deceive over the small things, how is one to be trusted over the great?

Mr Thomas went on to describe the incident as a "storm in a teacup" and said the model would be back on display shortly. The good Post Office manager, Richard Houghton, however, had other ideas- "It has gone and it is not coming back".

But whatever became of the real debate about the future of Chester's amphitheatre- and the continuing public demand for its total excavation and sensitive management? Interestingly, across town at the Old Port, the community fought developers, planners, councillors- and the Civic Trust- for over three years to prevent the needless demolition of the splendid Electric Light Building. To no avail, until at the last moment a more enlightened developer took over and at a stroke the survival and restoration of the building- or at least its facade- was assured.

How did we come to a situation where motley commercial interests- with a barrowload of bought-and-paid-for 'experts' on hand to back them up- are free to preserve or obliterate seemingly as the whim takes them? What a way to manage the irreplaceable heritage of a historic city.

Go on to part VIII of the amphitheatre story- or visit the magnificent church of St. John the Baptist

Top of Page | Site Front Door | Site Index | Chester Stroll Introduction | Amphitheatre I | 01 | II | III | IV | V | VI | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | Gallery | 2
Amphitheatre Letters 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | The Other Side: some alternative views | Chester Amphitheatre Project
Save the Chester Amphitheatre! (1932) | St. John's House | 'Round in Circles' by Flavius | On to St. John's Church

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