6/11/98 If, as
A few short years ago, entrepreneur Tony Barbet had devised a fabulous scheme for this admittedly archaeologically sensitive, but historically important, area.
The Barbet proposal- drawn up by Chester-based McCormick Architecture- was for a complete exposure of the present half uncovered site and the creation of an exciting mixture of partly-rebuilt amphitheatre walls, interpretive-cum-visitor centre and a venue for open air concert and theatrical productions.
At the time Chester was looking for a blockbuster attraction to rival the huge success of York's Jorvik Viking Centre, and there was a strong groundswell of support from the Chester business community and at least parts of the city council.
One of the many positive elements of the Barbet scheme was that one-third of the population of the UK lives within a two hour drive of Chester- although at the time I did wonder what would happen if 18 million people turned up one wet Thursday afternoon.
But then, as now, the 'Ethiopian in the oil well' was that to proceed, the scheme involved knocking down the Grade II listed Dee House.
The latest scheme comes from the Flint-based builder David Mclean Homes which appears to own Dee House or, at least for a number of years now, it has had its name board nailed to the gate leading to the old house. (Chester City Council are the actual owners. Ed)
And the proposal comes with a new twist because the company has allegedly agreed to fund the essential, but costly, excavation of the amphitheatre area in exchange for being granted planning permission to build a hotel on the site.
I always think it interesting to reflect on this kind of 'planning gain' approach.
Nowadays it is completely above board and generally taken as the norm, whereas in days of yore and when it was largely an 'under the table' arrangement- it was the kind of thing that sent Newcastle City Council leader T Dan Smith and developer John Poulson to prison for a few years.
Labour city councillors John Price and Sandra Rudd have already come out on opposing sides regarding the McLean Homes scheme, he for (on archaeological and tourism grounds) and she against (on the preservation of Dee House grounds).
But Cllr Price is absolutely right to call for as wide a public consultation as possible.
The biggest stumbling block in all of this is access to and from the particular site, situated as it is on a narrow curving road that already has significant traffic problems.
Perhaps the solution is to carry out the excavation and recreate the amphitheatre in a highly accessible, edge-of-town position.
In turn, this would allow the road be straightened and if any development, hotel or otherwise is given permission, it could incorporate at least the frontage of Dee House.
Bob Clough-Parker, Chester Chronicle 6/11/98
What a bizarre idea. How about relocating McLean's and their mediocre architecture to that "edge-of-town position" instead? As to straightening the road, wasn't this just what the city council of the 1930s unsuccessfully tried to do, at the cost of nearly destroying the amphitheatre?
26/11/98 An article in your 12th November edition (Chester Standard) concerning the Roman amphitheatre and the future of Dee House was a grave warning of things to come.
Some years ago this same matter was dealt with very fully in a public inquiry at a time when a developer was proposing the demolition of Dee House and the turning of the site into a Roman theme park. This included the building of a stand, like half a football stadium, facing the end of St. John Street. The town council supported him!
Right: How it could have been- the Roman amphitheatre in the birthplace of Karl Marx: Trier, Germany
The inspector in charge of the inquiry reported in favour of rejecting the proposal, only to have his considered judgment overturned by the then Secretary of State, the notorious Nicholas Ridley. I recommend the report to the city council for serious consideration. They would learn how knowledgeable experienced specialists, speaking as individuals or representing reputable national bodies, considered the matter of Dee House and the amphitheatre.
Chester doesn't have so many 18th century buildings that it can afford to lose one, and Dee House, though not perfect, is important. Having made an analytical scale drawing of the facade I have considerable knowledge of its merit. It is also an important element in the townscape. It closes the view down St John Street admirably and is in compositional balance with St John's Church, the Newgate and the City walls. It is also possible to preserve Dee House and excavate up to two thirds of the remaining part of the amphitheatre.
Yet Councillor John Price can say that the demolition of the 200 year old building is a price worth paying. For what, if not to satisfy the predatory developer waiting in the wings? Do your homework Councillor Price, cultural as well as commercial, and fully realise what you are about. The future will not thank you for destroying one more part of Chester's irreplaceable history. The town council should note that Glasgow City Council showed the same ignorance as Councillor Price when it destroyed the mediaeval centre of Glasgow- to its lasting international shame.
Jack Shore 11 St George's Crescent, Queen's Park, Chester
14/1/00 Excellent! I note that the city council has given permission for part of Britain's finest surviving Roman amphitheatre to be buried under a four storey building. Perhaps the council should now consider filling in the excavated part of the amphitheatre and using the site created for the erection of some large flagpoles in celebration of the millennium.
Grahame Thompson, Wealstone Lane, Upton, Chester
20/1/00 Chester City Council shows its delight in conniving in not merely a local, but a national scandal.
The news that the amphitheatre will not be excavated shows the utter hypocrisy of a council whose avowed support for our heritage is not even skin-deep. A council which in the face of public opinion forges ahead with spending over £50 million on an outdated bus scheme which will merely encourage more use of cars on the country roads, yet cannot find two per cent of this amount to fund an excavation which would receive widespread support locally and nationally, and could make possible the establishment of a unique heritage site, which would pay for itself through increased tourism.
The council of course continues a long tradition which has seen the destruction of the Elliptical Building, unique in the Roman Empire, under the Forum Shopping Centre, and many other sites about the city, such as the unexcavated remains destroyed beneath the Grosvenor Centre.
No sounding of what the residents of Chester, and indeed the wider public, would like to see done has been taken and even if it had, we know from past experience how much note the council would take. No opportunity has been given for raising any necessary funds for excavation, given that the council refuses to provide anything.
The adjacent mockery of a 'Roman Park' is being extended. It does not overlie any significant archaeology: why could the court house not be built there and the amphitheatre turned into a genuine Roman park?
The general policy of the politically appointed English Heritage in opposing any excavation at all proves a God-send for councils like ours. The endlessly repeated mantra that 'excavation techniques will be better in the future' means no excavation can ever be undertaken. The council and property developers can then happily get on with sharing out the pie, exonerated from all responsibility towards the heritage they are hell bent on destroying. When attitudes change at some future date, it will be found that thousands of tons of concrete laid on a 2000 year old monument after all caused immeasurable damage.
I think given the options of having a monstrosity of a court house or an amphitheatre without parallel in this country, the choice of the citizens who appointed this council would be clear.
Dr Clive Tolley, 45 Lime Grove, Hoole, Chester
20/1/00 I was appalled to read of this crass proposal to
build a new court building on top of our ancient Roman amphitheatre.
How uncultured, insensitive and arrogant can they get! Chester is rightly
famous throughout the world for its historic buildings and other remains which
stretch back 2,000 years.
But to future generations we could be famous as the city which wilfully destroyed
or obliterated most of our own heritage. Ninety per cent of our historic castle was demolished in Victorian times to make way for the crown court and county
offices. In the 1960s a section of the city wall and one side of historical Nicholas Street were demolished to make
way for a snarling dual carriageway and hideous concrete and steelframed modern
buildings. The Electric Light Building is due to be demolished, merely
in order to enrich Scottish Power pic and some alien speculative builder.
And now the legal authorities plan to bury our Roman amphitheatre under slabs
of reinforced concrete and some other boring modern structure.
Why build it there? Why not on some greenfield or brownfie!d site outside
the city centre? Why not indeed, behind and incorporating that aforementioned
Electric Light Building? The Roman amphitheatre is an extraordinary historic
site of national, even international, importance. How uncultured, how insensitive,
how stupid we would be to bury it under concrete and steel, merely for the
greater convenience of some insignificant local officials, and the greater
profit of some other speculative building company.
Patrick Deedy BA, Top Flat, 5 Stanley Place, Chester
20/1/00 Chester residents have been kept in the dark again with regard to the council's permission for a new county court on the site of the remains of the largest stone Roman ampitheatre in the country.
I feel sure a county court on this site will be very unpopular with the majority of Chester residents who appreciate the city's unique historic importance, unlike the council.
Initially local people had to read about this development in the national press! Surely there are more appropriate sites on the outskirts of the city for a new county court, which if developed on the proposed site will create more traffic on an already congested road system.
Please let us have the rest of the ampitheatre excavated for the present generation and future generations to enjoy, and a heritage centre in Dee House.
Ms Brenda Ainsworth, Thomas Brassey Close, Hoole, Chester
20/1/00 Hi Steve. I've just read the piece about you on the front page of the Standard free
sheet. Good on you, squire!
It's almost incredible the way the council is treating the redevelopment at
the amphitheatre and it's really good to see that you've been able to raise
the issue into the public eye. It needed a good man to do that.
to see that the council is trying to write you off as 'disgruntled' and an
'internet enthusiast' just goes to show how very far they have got their
heads up their own arses.
I'm certain that the council have scored a World Cup Final own goal with
their cretinous remarks and that you have done a fantastic job to get people
(including me) aroused and involved.
I hope this is the beginning of some serious resistance to the current
Very best wishes
Ian (of Chester@Large)
20/1/00 I write in relation to the article in the Standard and I fully agree that the Amphitheatre should not be built upon.
It is about time that the CCC should start thinking about what the people of Chester want and not how much money they can cram into there back pockets.
The Amphitheatre is one of the many marvels of Chester even more so than the walls, this site should be excavated. If a boycott of Chester is the way to go, then you have my full support. Hit them where it really hurts!!!!!
20/1/00 Congratulations! I really mean that; you seem to have found a means of actually stinging those turkeys where it hurts!
This ongoing spectacle of 'them' removing, layer by layer, what was left of Chester's amenity and indeed 'Heritage', to be replaced by the faceless, the bland, the sanitized, all at a tidy profit to someone.... it really goes beyond anger....and then they complain that their precious shoppers are deserting Chester for Cheshire Oaks... couldn't possibly have anything to do with them now, could it?
My question would be whether they are actually following orders of someone else higher up the food chain, or whether this is a phenomenon of its own environmental causes, like acid rain, global warming or pond bloom, something mindless but nasty, a sign that all is not well in the collective mindset...
The one that amuses me is the front page of this week's Standard, with the 'outraged council' piece next to one about 'loads more spy cameras for Chester', how this is apparently a good thing, and the 1/2 mil budget was simply there, no bloody by-your-leave involved whatsoever; but no money available for archaeology, oh no.
Nothing more inimical to a civil society can be imagined, and there is definitely something a bit...grotesque?... to our social priorities.
And the bloody busway that nobody wants except (a certain interested) Cllr Price and whoever's paying him.
And the positively EVIL Kiln plan by Castle Cement at Padeswood, like Bhopal, but slower, and Chester neatly downwind of it...
The one that REALLY gets up my nose is the row of posts now across The Cross. With one stroke one of the last genuine pieces of Heritage has been...compromised? Violated?....with this glacial, inexorable, mindless...
Chester? Street Furniture? Loads of street furniture!!! But to have The Cross disfigured by No Parking placards or plastic bollards is really too much. Again, being 'improvements' the only notice anyone had of this was when they simply appeared...
But anyway, back to the beginning. Congratulations again. I wonder what it actually is that pricks them so. The Internet connection? Be nice if it was, and this might be a genuinely effective lever, a sort of Reclaim The Streets in the public perception. (You can see the connection; Internet= Americans= Tourists...)
You certainly seem to have rippled the pond anyway. Dee House is as we know rather a sensitive spot, the council have several times thought they had got it neatly salted away, and then it comes back to haunt them; but again on a purely functional level, to dump a major, traffic-intensive public building into the most bottlenecked part of town really is a bit of desperation politics. Let alone it would not be a civic building at all, but rather a statement of The State of which we are seeing rather too much (viz. spy cameras, above).
And of course it would be some pathetic attempt at heritage architecture (Gable roofs? Chester? Loads of gable roofs!!!) And what about the fact of a large and monumental Courts building just down the road? What?
Forgive the length, I might send some of this to the paper...
27/1/00 It is with a sense of bitter amusement that I read
how Chester City Council has seen fit, instead of apologising to its electorate
for its undemocratic and philistine act of vandalism over the ampitheatre,
to lay into Steven Howe's popular web site.
It seems, as we knew all along, that the council is interested in nothing but making money, and is therefore rattled at the prospect of Mr. Howe undermining this. Fortunately Mr. Howe is a free citizen and has every right to express the general sense of outrage in whatever way he sees fit.
In fact it is the short-sightedness of the council that will undermine the local economy. A fully excavated ampitheatre could, if properly managed, act as an economic magnet through tourism, arts, festivals, etc. A court complex, paid for out of taxes benefits no one but the developers.
The council in fact scarcely need Mr. Howe's help in advertising the fact that they have ensured that a major potential attraction is lost: their criticism strikes home strongest against themselves.
It is a pleasant surprise to find that a Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate, David Jones, is opposing the scheme. I would suggest to Mr. Jones that he would win even greater support, including from such people as myself, who have never so far voted Tory, if he actually managed to achieve something in this matter.
On the evidence we have seen so far (if it is accurate) the legal position of the council planning department looks at least questionable. if someone would but challenge them.
By way of comparison, I wonder whether, if I received permission to build a garage on my property, then changed it without re-application to a take-away food outlet (and we needn't worry about access for traffic, need we?), the council would rubber-stamp my project, unless I happened to be a property-developer?
If the council had made it clear from the beginning that planning permission would in no circumstances be granted for building over the amphitheatre, as was originally recommended, then no property developer would have been interested.
Even without the ampitheatre this is about the most inconvenient site for a county complex in all Chester. The council, I am sure, owns land elsewhere far better suited to this purpose, which could indeed have been exchanged for the ampitheatre site.
The council may be surprised to discover that some of us believe in pursuing quality in life, rather than primarily making money. Whatever Mr. Howe does, I for one have already warned all my friends and contacts throughtout the world off Chester.
Dr. Clive Tolley, 45 Lime Grove, Hoole, Chester
27/1/00 Steven Howe, as reported on your front page of 20th
January (Chester Standard) may have gone over the top on the
Internet (???) but many Iocal people share his indignation at the
short-sightedness of the city council and planners over the development on
the Roman Ampitheatre site.
For months the David McLean sign has been up on the listed Dee House buildings, suggesting that they would develop that building.
Suddenly eveththing is different.
Good luck to the Chester Civic Trust and others in their efforts to get a delay and review.
J. L. Wolfenden, 29 Thackeray Drive, Chester
27/1/00 It is ironic that in this Millennium Festival year, when Chester is celebrating 2000 years of building, we should again be embroiled in controversy over the amphitheatre.
Personally, I have never subscribed to Chester being branded simply as a 'Roman City'. Most of us in the Civic Trust believe that Chester's true glory lies in the variety of buildings and structures which survives from almost every period of our continuous occupation and development. Nevertheless, our story began with the Romans, and the amphitheatre is arguably the most obvious legacy of their presence here.
So why are we now building anything on top of it?!
Those who have built above the amphitheatre in the past did not know that is was there. We now know better. The existence of the buried half has been proven. and many people regard its exposure as the ultimate objective. Whether this takes five, 10 or 20 years to achieve is hard to say, but this aspiration will not go away. Chester City Council is therefore mistaken to think that the issue can be forgotten about for another 100 years.
The opportunity which is now passing us by may never be repeated again for generations.
The commercial realities of site ownership and non-existent public funding might lead some to conclude that it is an opportunity we never really had anyway. Maybe so, but it is still fundamentally wrong to be erecting a new building on top of any part of this Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Members of the Chester Civic Trust Council have resolved unanimously to uphold our earlier objections and to repeat our request for a change to the design. Neither we nor Chester City Council can stop David McLean Developments from proceeding with that for which they already have pemmission- but we can perhaps hope that all concerned would prefer to avoid this millennium folly.
Stephen Langtree, Chairman, Chester Civic Trust, Bishop Lloyd's Palace, 51/53 Watergate Row, Chester
27/1/00 I was born in Lancashire and used to hear a saying "Cheshire born and Cheshire bred. Strong in the arm, and wake in the head".
Or was it weak in the head? The proposed building over part of the
Roman amphitheatre makes me think whoever is responsible belongs to the latter.
How many towns can boast a genuine Roman amphitheatre? It should be one of
the jewels in Chester's crown.
(Mrs) R. Gerrard Ash Cottage, Hare Lane, Chester
27/1/00 Your front page of issue dated 20th January (Chester Standard) sums up the attitude of the Chester City Council in a nutshell.
We have a rare Roman remain called an amphitheatre which would enhance Chester's position as a tourist attraction and an Electric Light Building constructed in the 1890's which has nice red bricks!
R. G. Warren, 37 Woodfield Grove, Hoole, Chester
27/1/00 Have the City Fathers lost the plot?
I came to live in Chester in 1972, attracted to the city by its history, location and beauty. I could never understand why only half the Roman amphitheatre was exposed. It stands out like a sore thumb as wrong.
What do our tourists think? Being the backbone of our local economy it's important their views are known. So we need a new county court building? I emember the original in Nicolas Street across the road from the present, new and excellent magistrates' court. It moved to Centurion House, vhich it shared with the VAT office. The VAT offce moved out to the Chester Business Park and the county court suites were upgraded and renovated not very long ago.
Fairly recently we were informed that Cheshire police were relocating to a more central county location. That means that only the city police will be occupying the monstrosity of a building opposite the Castle and crown court. Now surely it is not require a Christopher Wren to recognise the obvious.
Demolish the police HQ, build a modern county court on the site, similar to the new magistrates' court across the road. Move the city police into Centurion House, excavate and repair the buried half of the ampitheatre and turn the abandoned Manweb building into a five star international hotel with high class shops inside and allow the owners of the Greyhound Park to build the Western Relief road as they have offered.
Or am I just a little naive, or perhaps too sceptical?
Wm. Crawford 16 Tegid Way Saltney
3/2/00 A county Court can be built anywhere- a surviving Roman Ampitheatre is of national importance.
Reveal it and enhance Chester's heritage. Seal it in an underground grave and it will be lost forever.
Chester abuses it Roman heritage- just visit Jigsaw's basement and ask to see the Roman Forum remains- clothes and coathangers abound, sprawled over noble Roman pillars.
I remain disgusted.
Avril Wright, 2 Farndon Hall Church Lane, Farndon
4/2/00 Stones and mortar, that's what it is.
Now, my rented house is stones and mortar (well, bricks) but if they wanted to demolish it and build a courthouse then be my guest- I'll just rent somewhere else.
But this is a Roman amphitheatre.
All right, as amphitheatres go, it's not a stunner.
And it has to be one of the most frequently-missed buildings in Chester- tourists are forever asking for directions. More often than not they've probably walked past it, looking for something resembling Rome's Colosseum.
But, as with so many things, the reality is very different. The tourists eventually find the sunken hole in the ground, swamped by schoolchildren eating packed lunches, that is Chester's throwback to Roman entertainment.
The amphitheatre is never going to attract the Italians, but it is Chester's, and since someone spent the time building it, it's only polite to look after it.
Which is where the difficulties arise, because David McLean wants to build a county court on top of part of the unexcavated site.
Whatever the wrangles about planning permission, it's got to be wrong to build over it.
Naturally, the developers are making allowances and are talking about some kind of display in the building.
Brilliant! Let's knock down St Paul's and build a miniature model of Wren's glorious cathedral in the lobby of the international hotel erected on the bulldozed site.
The phrase 'token gesture' springs to mind.
My feelings are that it's a historical monument, so let's treat it as one.
At the moment, the amphitheatre is wedged between a large brick wall and a road. Hardly an inspirational setting, but what are you going to do about it?
Well, that wall is coming down for a start, then we're excavating the rest of that amphitheatre. This problem would never have arisen in the first place if we'd put some thought into the thing.
For a start, let's get some use out of it. I'm thinking about gladiatorial combat- the Romans would certainly have approved.
And what better way to relive the glorious days of the Roman Empire than to have convicted criminals left to battle it out, with only their wits to defend them, against a heavily-armed magistrate.
Now, that would be entertainment, but it might cause concern among certain sections of society.
Which is why there's an alternative- music, dance, drama, whatever; just as long as somebody does something with this sorry piece of land.
Richard Irvine, Twenty Something, Chester Chronicle 4/2/00
18/2/00 The council has failed to consult with the people of Chester.
We don't want a county court building at the site of the amphitheatre. We want a place of pride for Chester.
Is there no-one on the council with any vision?
Chester is suffering from loss of revenue in the city due to out-of-town shopping centres.
Here is an opportunity to bring hundreds of thousands of visitors into the centre to visit the finest example of a Roman amphitheatre in Britain and the council decides to build a court house to be visited by 51 people per day.
The fully-excavated amphitheatre would be a magnet for tourists. It would be a stunning addition to the city to have a big open space with the amphitheatre there attracting appropriate music, drama, opera, and sports events throughout the summer months.
The city council has to de-list and demolish Dee House; clear the whole ground; have the site fully excavated and open it for visitors with an appropriate small museum of Roman artefacts close by. Money for this should have been pouring in from Europe, the Lottery and central Government. If it is not, then the council has failed the city utterly.
Dr Liane Smith, Mount Way, Waverton, Chester
18/2/00 Alarm! Alarm!
The walls are breached! The enemy are within!
Even as you read this, the destruction is taking place! The army of builders from over the border are entrenching on top of our city's heritage and history, and attacking our culture.
The enemy were allowed in whilst the citizens were asleep. The Quislings in the Town Hall opened the gates.
Citizens of Chester, throw off the cloak of anonymity, rise from your slumber and take up the cudgel of democracy. Bring the Mandarins in the Town Hall to account.
Where are your Captains, where are your Lieutenants, where are the leaders of your community?
Two weeks ago we were told that we don't need a Roman amphitheatre but we do need a new county court building on top of our ancient monument.
What is wrong with the suggestion of building (if it's really needed) on the site of the soon-to-be redundant police HQ building? All the courts would then be in the same location, as are most of the city solicitors' offices.
The next time (probably the only time) a councillor knocks on your door asking for your vote, ask them what they have they done for you.
It's the same old establishment crowd, year after year. Milking the people, and not an original thought in their self-opinionated heads. Come on Cestrians! Don't be fooled by the establishment con of Tories, Labour or Lib Dems. Vote for people from within your own community. Take the power, which is yours, back.
We must now fight a rearguard action to save the Roman amphitheatre for this generation. To fight a successful rearguard action requires superior leadership and aggressive tactics.
So, fellow Cestrians, look within bring the fat cats to account, if necessary form an alternative council, or even a new Roman legion for our kids to join to learn our history and defend what we have inherited.
Now wouldn't that be a smashing tourist attraction on a summer evening down on the meadows? Our kids dressed as Deva soldiers drilling, with orders given in Latin, teaching our foreign visitors our history.
Wm Crawford, Tegid Way, Saltney, Chester
18/2/00 We are told ad nauseum by the city 'fathers' that Chester has six million visitors a year and we know they do not come for the lap dancing.
Perhaps they come for its outstanding Roman heritage. But no, that can't be it, for who then in their right mind would build over something as remarkable as part of the Roman amphitheatre?
Then again, it might be for the medieval history and the Rows unique throughout Western Europe. But no, that can't be it either, because we have a semi-industrial unit on one side of the most prestigious shopping thoroughfares and blank walls, graffiti and the stench of urine on the other side.
Well, it must be the river- a great attraction, particularly Salmon Leap or the Roodee. Somebody told me it is quite old, and the inspired location of Cheshire Police HQ does add a certain piquancy.
For whatever reason they come here, I think it's jolly decent they do.
Tim Craig, Partner, The Executive Search Connection, Heritage Court, Lower Bridge Street, Chester
24/2/00 The new building on the amphitheatre is going ahead despite public opinion but a few questions remain.
Why build courts on a landlocked site in the city centre which already has traffic problems? If there is no need to build on the amphitheatre, there is also no need to dig thereby saving any costs, but a dig might not be as expensive as made out.
Why not dig the site? English Heritage's view that things shouldn't be disturbed leave us with the only option of not finding anything. Archaeology would be as dead as the skeletons dug up, if no digs could ever be made.
Chester City boasts its own experienced archaeology team installed at the Grosvenor Museum at taxpayers' expense. They have no sites to dig. Chester has the largest British amphitheatre and a lively tourist market.
Why not capitalise on these advantages and set up a long term dig (over, say, 10 years) with viewing platforms using our city's archaeological expertise, a tourist fee to see the dig, and an excavation that could almost be an archaeological school.
There again we could just put a building and a car park on the site.
Gordon Emery, 27 Gladstone Road, Chester
25/2/00 Quite apart from the somewhat questionable view apparently advanced by English Heritage that the buried section of the amphitheatre should be left buried, it would, of course, be an act of monumental folly to build over it.
Beyond question is the crass stupity of the claim that it would be all right to build over the amphitheatre today so that future, presumably more enlightened, generations may knock down our new building and do what we should do now: that is to unearth, sympathetically restore and make available for tourist, educational and leisure uses the only such amphitheatre in the country.
It is bizarre in the extreme that we should even contemplate doing anything else. Chester will be the laughing stock of Northern Europe and every other tourist city in the country will not believe its luck. Chester buries its Roman amphitheatre under yet another new office block!
It has been suggested that in view of the history of the ownership of the site, there has never been an opportunity to unearth the remainder of the amphitheatre. It is my hope that the strength of the public outcry, now that plans for the new development have become widely known, will prompt all those concerned, even at this late stage, to have a serious and radical rethink and that out of this an opportunity may arise.
We read that only a tiny part, some 4%, of the buried amphitheatre will be under the proposed new building. If this is the case, then presumably it is not beyond the wit of the architect and developer to realign tho proposed building by a few degrees or redesign it so that it does not need to be built over the amphitheatre at all.
It would be hoped that having regard to the present debacle the city's planning officers would be kindly disposed to a revised planning application for a modified building which did not encroach upon the amphitheatre site.
I am simply not persuaded by the frequently repeated argument that the listed building Dee House should anyway prevent the uncovering of the amphitheatre.
Dee House may in part be a fine Georgian building but Chester has others of these and only one amphitheatre.
Indeed, the fact that Dee House has sat empty and slowly decaying for years has only emphasised the hidden potential of the amphitheatre.
I also totally fail to see the logic in putting, of all things, a new court building on the amphitheatre site. Whether or not a new county court building is required or justified is another matter, but itls abundantly clear that, cut off from the other courts and suffering difficult and congested road access, the amphitheatre site is certainly the wrong place to put a new court building.
I urge all concerned to pause for thought and take a long, hard look at the alternatives. If we miss the opportunity to make something of the amphitheatre our children's generation will think that we must have taken leave of our senses.
Consider how we all view with dismay and sometimes outrage the various architectural disasters inflicted upon the city in the 1960s. The view of future generations in relation to a half buried amphitheatre will be that to have built over it in the year 2000 in full knowledge ot its existence will have been nothing short of scandalous.
Jim Ellis, Hamilton Street, Hoole, Chester
25/2/00 It is hard to believe that the Lord Chancellor's department is party as prospective tenants to the construction of a new county court over a part of Chester's wonderful and unique Roman amphitheatre.
We should all be appalled at this vandalism perpetrated using the tax we pay!
Vlsitors travel from all over the world to marvel at the remains of the Roman city and would be staggered by this short-sightedness. Tourism is vital to Chester's economy.
It is surely possible for the building to he designed in such a way that the amphitheatre is not placed outside our reach for generations.
The city council also needs to re-examine the planning permission it gave to tbe developers. This development in its current form is contrary to what most Cestrians want and we must all make our elected representatives aware of our views.
Cllr Everleigh Moore Dutton, Tushingham Hall, Tushingham
25/2/00 Copy of a letter to Andy Farrall, Head of Planning, Chester City Council.
Chester Archaeological Society was instrumental in saving the site of the northern half of the amphitheatre from development in the 1930s and we accordingly have a strong interest in the planning future of the southern half.
We have read wlth interest recent comments ln the press and can only regret that this reaction did not occur when the original application was made.
We fully understand that a planning application once granted can only be reversed with a great deal of difficulty and probably considerable expense.
However, we would urge that during the groundworks a full watching brief be maintained by the curatorial archaeologists so that inadvertent damage be avoided and any unexpected archaeology which is discovered is fully protected.
It is a condition of the planning permission that that the new building is built on the footprint of the original one and it is important that this is adhered to.
We would have supported the Civic Trust request that the developer consider whether the design of the new building could be modified so that if in the future the will and the means to excavate the amphitheatre were found, then that part of the building over the amphitheatre could be removed to allow excavation.
We understand from recent press reports that it is already too late to make such a change.
If at anytime during construction a design change is found necessary perhaps this suggestion could be considered.
Lastly, there is a significant part of the southern amphitheatre that can still be uncovered if and when the development of Dee House occurs and we would urge that in any such development this possibility is given every consideration.
G R Storey, Chairman, Chester Archaeological Society, The Beeches, Plas Newton Lane Chester
2/3/00 As the scandal of the never-to-be-excavated ampitheatre rumbles on, further interesting facts are revealed, further questions demand an answer.
First, it seems that the only reason for the urgency to build is the urgent need of David McLean the developer to make money. The county court functions quite satisfactorily in its present location. If they really needed to relocate, there are several less historic development sites available in Chester. But the ampitheatre site offers the quickest profit to this soulless developer, and somehow, behind the scenes, he has got the county court officials, the city council, and English Heritage to collude with him.
Secondly, despite the pretty-pretty artistic impressions of how it will look, the truth is clear that this new building is too big, too square, to ordinary, too brutally ugly. If the architects had any imagination, any artistic sensitivity to the relics below ground, they could easily have designed a curved facade, maybe with stone columns and arches, to follow the line of the outer wall of the ampitheatre, leaving the ruins intact.
But no, these men with mercenary minds can only think in square blocks and straight lines and profit, profit, profit.
Thirdly, bad though it is, the court building is not the chief destroyer of our hopes to uncover this buried treasure. The main culprit is their lordships' car park for 49 cars! Even though the plan of the buried structure will be marked out on it as a sop, the fact remains that, but for the car park, 80 per cent of the amphitheatre could be excavated and dramatically displayed.
Why not park their lordships' cars somewhere else? Why not leave them on the Castle ground and let them walk to work? Why not excavate the amphitheatre and park the cars on the central arena, like the chariots of old? Why don't their lordships use the Park and Ride like ordinary mortals, or commute by CDTS? I thought we were trying to keep cars out of our historic city centre, not park them on top of our most historic remains.
Lastly, the role of English Heritage and our own city council remains open to question. It seems they each own a slice of the amphitheatre, but somehow they have abdicated their responsibility to record and display these remains and enhance their setting. They prefer to work hand in glove with Mr McLean.
They trot out the usual scare stories about how much it would cost to excavate, yet happily spend millions on refurbishing the Grosvenor Museum to better display a few fragments of our history out ol context, or rip through the Roman pavements of Watergate Street with a huge digger, as they did last week, before burying any remaining items forever under thick reinforced concrete.
English Heritage's latest trendy nonsense is to advocate conservation by concealment. The reckon that by burying our historic treasures under thousands of tons of concrete and steel, they will somehow be protecting these fragile relics from destruction! What are we paying them for? The seem to hope that some future millennium will have the courage and the imagination which the don't have, to put commercial interests aside, rip up the concrete and expose for public admiration and education these ancient treasures.
The Roman Empire was brought down by the Goths and Vandals of old. But it is the Goths and Vandals of today- developers, court officials, city council and English Heritage- who have permanently buried it!
Patrick Deedy, Top Flat, 5 Stanley Place, Chester
3/3/00 In recent weeks the City edition of The Chronicle has carried a number of articles about the threat to build the new county court over part of Chester's unique Roman amphitheatre.
The articles have not appeared in the Country edition so I thought it right to tell you of something I am involved in as one of your elected representatives.
Along with Chester Civic Trust and many other concerned people and organisations, I am campaigning to stop this unnecessary vandalism.
If we were eventually able to uncover the whole amphitheatre, we would understand the magnificence of the arena built here almost 2,000 years ago- one that in its heyday could seat thousands. By comparison, the Gateway Theatre seats about 400.
English Heritage, the guardians of the excavated part of the amphitheatre, do not believe the remains will be damaged by being built over. I am not alone in believing that most residents of Chester District and beyond do not want this precious part of their archaeological heritage put beyond reach for generations.
If we were able to excavate the buried section there would be even more scope for outdoor spectacles to be staged there, such as the opera and jazz events by Chester in Concert last summer.
Tourism is a vital part of the economy of the whole district, which includes Malpas and its surrounding villages. Visitors come from around the world to marvel at the evidence of Cheshire's Roman past but, instead of revealing more, it is proposed to bury it for the foreseeable future!
If you feel strongly about this matter, write to me, to Chester Civic Trust
at Bishop Lloyd's Palace, 51/53 Watergate Row, Chester, CH1 2LE, or to The
Chronicle (or to us at the Chester
Virtual Stroll, of course)
If you have an opinion make it known- that way we can all make changes!
Cllr Eveleigh Moore Dutton, Chester city councillor (Malpas ward)
3/3/00 Copy of a letter sent to Andy Farrall, head of planning at Chester City Council.
Where, oh where, is the learning curve?
I can, reluctantly, bow to English Heritage about the need to keep the amphitheatre buried. I may be able to put my considerable doubts behind me as to the need for yet another court.
But I cannot accept another late 20th century, apparently army-designed utility building on the most important tourist site in Chester.
Revisit the demolition of the Edwardian Market
Hall, the approval of the Salmon Leap development, the destruction
of much of Roman Chester during the construction of the Grosvenor
Precinct and many other examples of official vandalism within the
city and rethink. How do you want history to think of you and your department-
as responsible for the enhancement of the city or for dismantling our heritage?
John A Ebbs, City Walls, Chester
3/3/00 I have been following the prolific correspondence concerning the amphitheatre site and feel strongly that David Jones, the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Chester, is right to question the legality of the county court building.
It appears that planning permission was granted some years ago for offices on the site behind Dee House. The chairman of the planning committee at the time was our present MP, Christine Russell.
A court building is surely a change of use from the original plan.
I suggest that everyone who has concerns about the amphitheatre should contact their local councillors and demand that the developers submit a new planning application.
Mrs L Charlton Connolley, Dolwyddelan, Conwy
3/3/00 Chester City Council's planning department says it is not a 'material change of use' to use an office block as a county court building.
I am not an expert in these matters, but it does seem to me that a court house is very different from an office block in terms of layout, purpose, and hours of use. Perhaps the planning department could say how it justifies its decision?
The amphitheatre is one of the most important archaeological sites in this country. It is outrageous that the city council should allow this change of use to take place without giving good reasons to the peopIe who elect them and pay their officers' salaries.
Stephen Moseley, Pyecroft Street, Handbridge, Chester
3/3/00 Concern about the fate of the unexcavated half of Chester's Roman amphitheatre transcends county and even national boundaries.
The Whitchurch History and Archaeology Group pleads that no ill-considered constructions is carried out that would cause future generations to curse the developers who ruined their heritage for short term gains.
S A North, WH&AG Committee, Whitchurch
3/3/00 It is abundantly obvious fom the number and tone of the Chronicle's letters pages that there is strong public opposition to the construction of a courthouse at Chester's Roman amphitheatre site.
My guess is that the correspondents carry the support of the overwhelming majority of local people- the important 'silent majority' of the populace.
Perhaps no-one has better described what: he calls 'the crass stupidity' ot the proposal than Jim Ellis, of Hamilton Street, Hoole.
As Mr Ellis says, what the city council and other agencies should be doing is to 'unearth, sympathetically restore and make available for tourist, educational and leisure uses the only such amphitheatre in the country'.
It is perhaps worth noting the more recent history of the site.
When Chester City Council acquired Dee House in 1994 it was, to quote the council, to develop the site as a 'focus for the interpretation of Chester's heritage'.
When an application for Heritage Lottery funding was rejected, the council decided to work with David McLean Holdings who, for many years, have owned the land adjacent to Dee House.
Initially, it was proposed to build a hotel and use, in the jargon, 'planning gain' benefits to expose the currently hidden half of thc amphitheatre. In the event, the scheme proved financially unviable.
Further discussions between the city council and David McLean Holdings followed and it was agreed that the best use of the property was 'a mix of restaurants and cafes grouped around a piazza'.
Of course- and as we now know- the Mclean's company had four years earlier been granted planning perinission to build offices on the other part of the site.
But there are two points that remain distinctly unclear.
First, does permission to build 'offices' actually embrace 'courthouse'? There is a school of thought that suggests the two uses require two quite separate forms of planning permission.
Secondly, the view of the Member of Parliament for the City of Chester- on a subject of immense importance to her constituents in terms of tourism, economic development and job creation- has been as loud and clear as it was over the potential threats from the new kiln at Padeswood.
Surely her silence can have nothing to do with the fact that she was chairwoman of the city council's planning committee at the time of the original McLean planning application?
Bob Clough-Parker, Chester Chronicle 3/3/00
Press release: 8/3/00 A meeting of concerned local voluntary organisations has formed a liaison committee to consider the best means of safeguarding and presenting Chester's
The meeting, under the chairmanship of Conservative City Council Group Leader, Brian Bailey, took place at Bishop Lloyd's Palace on Friday last. Particular consideration was given to the question of whether the building proposed to be erected on the Amphitheatre could, under the terms of the current planning permission, be used as a courthouse.
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, David Jones, who spoke at the meeting,
said, "Everyone present was concerned that a courthouse was a very different use
from the permitted use of an office block. It was agreed that the City Council be urged to ask the developers to make a
formal application for permission for change of use, so that the matter could be given full consideration by the City's elected representatives."
A liaison committee of the organisations was formed and will meet again in two-three week's time.
Mr Jones said that he was delighted that public opinion was now being mobilised so positively. "The Amphitheatre is a national treasure under the guardianship of the people
of Chester. Public pressure saved it from desecration in 1932; let us hope that public
pressure will secure its future in 2000."
David Jones, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate 01244 322732 / 01492 874336
9/3/00 It is a great pity that the current young people will never live to see the amphitheatre exposed in the round.
Of couse when one is young there is always something more interesting to do and the amphitheatre proved not to have a high listing in one's life priorities.
However it is not their fault that the amphitheatre is not to be excavated- it's ours because we have not kept our eyes on the ball. There would have been every possibility to have obtained a grant towards the rest of its excavation.
How is it that a prestigious 'product' like the amphitheatre has not had a marketing profile prepared by Chester's Marketing and Travel and Tourism Departments?
I have put forward the view that Chester is in danger of attracting the wrong tourist and any observant individual can judge for themselves by the number of chip trays which are discarded in the streets and Rows.
Now these sort of tourists are what you want if you are running a lower end of the market seaside resort with amusement arcades, or street bingo halls and the like and it is easier to aim down market than to establish a tourist industry in a prestigious section and it takes longer in real terms to establish a brand image in these market segments.
The other week I mistook one of Bernard Wall's photographs taken pre-war in 1938 for one of three with which I became involved in 1958. Very little had changed in the 20 years between the photographs and because of the Second World War little if any marketing of the city took place.
Today things move at a faster pace than ever before and IT (Technology) can present an image across the world in minutes.
So how come Marketing, Travel & Tourism did not promote the image of the benefits of an amphitheatre and do they regard the county court development on this site as a having more pulling power than a local focal point of our own history and a place for open air music and plays?
10/3/00 Copy of a letter to Chester Civic Trust.
I was alarmed to learn of proposals to construct the new county court building over part of Chester's Roman amphitheatre.
The amphitheatre is one of the city's principal attractions and is important to those of us who work in or near the city centre.
Not only does it provide an excellent tourist attraction, it is also probably unique in providing a first class educational facility and is enjoyed by the many children who undertake school visits.
You have my support in putting forward wholehearted resistance to the proposals which appear to render excavation of the remaining amphitheatre impossible for the foreseeable future.
Frankly, I am amazed that the proposal was ever put forward.
J A Mellis for Denton Clark & Co Chartered Surveyors, Vicar's Lane, Chester
10/3/00 Copy of a letter fo Lord Irvine of Lairg, Lord Chancellor
This, somewhat emotive title sums up the feelings of many hundreds of people in Chester who are staggered to learn that a new county courthouse is to be built on top of one of our most important Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
The site in question lies between Souters Lane and Little St.john Street, just outside the city walls, and the monument in question is Chester's Roman amphitheatre. Approximately 45% of the amphitheatre was uncovered by archaeologists in the late 1960s. The remaining 55% lies beneath land owned by Chester City Council and David McLean Developments.
The existence of archaeological remains representing the whole of the amphitheatre is not in doubt, yet one corner of the courthouse will overlap these remains and prevent full excavtion of the monument if and when resources become available to do so.
The county courts are to be housed in an unpreposssessing office block which will lie in the heart of an area which is supposedly earmarked for heritage and tourism.
The office block, which was granted planning permission five years ago, was expected by many never to be built- until the Counly Court Service came on to the scene some time last year that is.
Negotiations between the court service, the developer and Chester City Council were kept secret until a few weeks ago, and permission to vary the planning consent was given without reference to councillors or the general public.
In terms both of Chester's heritage and its townscape, we feel that a considerable injustice is about to be done.
It is a matter of considerable regret that a public building of this nature will be so badly situated, poorly designed and universally disliked before it is even built.
On behalf of the Chester Civic Trust and many other members of the public, I would ask you most respectfully to investigate the situation and to intervene to protect Chester's reputation as a historic city.
Stephen Langtree, Chairman, Chester Civic Trust
10/3/00 I last wrote to your newspaper (Chester Chronicle) in November 1988, objecting to our city council's proposals for modern development at the High Cross and the amphitheatre. That same week in 1988 the Prince of Wales expressod his views on post-war architecture and the furore lives on.
This latest idea of building a county court on the amphitheatre site is ludicrous. The site should be excavated, and Dee House demolished, along with other buildings obscuring the river.
Views of the river from the amphitheatre would be spectacular. This is a great opportunity to enhance our city.
The amphitheatre was used for the Roman Games by the 20th Legion around AD109 and an enactment of these games was performed in the Chester Pageant of 1937.
Maybe this is our last chance to save our priceless heritage. We lost so much of it in the 1960s. Don't let us do the same again.
Margaret Cockrill, Becketts Lane, Great Boughton, Chester
10/3/00 Copy of letter to Cllr Brian Bailey, Chester
I count myself fortunate in having had a job move to Chester with my family 10 years ago. Since then we have enjoyed showing our visitors from the south and abroad the city's historical landmarks.
For many it was their first visit, and without exception all have found the City fascinating. However, every one has commented
what a wonderful site the amphitheatre would be if it were not half buried. I fully support you and others, if it is not too late to delay the planned developments. However, every one has commented
This surely is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I believe the uncovered amphitheatre has on its own the potential to increase tourism in the North West.
Simon Ely, Tarvin Road, Littleton
10/3/00 Having been born in Chester and spent my childhood in Cheshire, I add a word from abroad to the debate about the Roman amphitheatre.
I was distressed to learn a wonderful opportunity to expose the entire amphitheatre may be lost and cannot understand that English Heritage and those responsible for a new county court can contemplate a measure which would again condemn these vestiges of our past.
What could be a more suitable millennium project for Chester than a magnificent amphitheatre, a northern arena to compare with those of other splendid European Roman cities?
Let us restore the amphitheatre to its former glory and make it a symbol of the City of Chester.
Mary Pease, Villa Primerose, 60500 Chantilly France
10/3/00 Local civic planning has completely lost its way. We are content to spend large sums on the fake cobbling of our streets, and on refurbishing the fake Roman Gardens, yet we have condemned the hidden half of a Roman amphitheatre to remain underground for the lifetime of a county court building.
What a lost opportunity for a millennium project!
Mrs Shuttleworth, Marlston Avenue, Chester
10/3/00 I have read that it is intended to build the new county court building over this famous and unique Roman amphitheatre.
This is scandalous and vandalism on a grand scale. Here we have the chance to uncover the whole amphitheatre and to show the magnificence of the arena. It must not be covered over. This is a chance to improve Chester's attractions.
A J Boumphrey, Delamere
10/3/00 I am thoroughly fed up with Chester City Council.
Not only have they made it difficult and expensive to park in Chester, they
put the rates up at a rate far above inflation and now they intend to allow
part of our history to be permanently buried.
Mrs M Yarwood, Tushingham
10/3/00 And still the saga of the desecration of Chester's Roman Amphitheatre
rumbles on and on.
Indeed, it is difficult to think of an issue in Chester where public, professional
and learned opinion is so diametrically opposed to what is being proposed.
After all, even the ghastly flagpoles had their supporters.
But, apart from the city council and the developers, I have yet to find a
single person who wants anything but the integrity of the amphitheatre preserved.
Compare then, if you will, the plight of the amphitheatre with the city council's
reaction to the planning application by Brown's of Chester to extend their
Grosvenor Shopping Centre premises.
Let's accept first of all that, like a number of businesses in Chester, Brown's
sits on and alongside some archaeologically sensitive areas. According to
the city council's archaeologist, Mike Morris: "In this area, remains dating
back to the Roman period have been untouched with no major developments taking
place to cause disturbance."
Quite so. But should not the same criterion be applied to the amphitheatre?
And if so, how can you justify the one and think in terms of rejecting the
In any event, however important the Roman remains alongside Brown's of Chester
may be, are they I ever likely to be generally available to public gaze?
And are they ever likely to prove a general tourist pull in the same way the
amphitheatre could if properly excavated, displayed and marketed?
Bob Clough-Parker: Chester Chronicle
"Until the late 1920s the existence of the amphitheatre was a matter only of speculation. Its discovery was a sensation, and when, in the 1930s, it was planned to build a new road through the site, there was an international outcry. The amphitheatre is the largest in Britain and is a treasure to be cherished. I find it impossible to believe that the new Court had to be built here, and could not have been built on one of any number of other sites around the city. If Chester is to continue to attract visitors and maintain its position as a heritage city of international importance, it must find ways of protecting sites such as the amphitheatre and presenting them in an imaginative way that respects their archaeological significance. Quite simply, Chester deserves better. I hope that, even at this late hour, a way can be found of stopping the Court development. If not, then the question must be asked: How on earth was this allowed to happen?"
David Jones, Prospective Paliamentary candidate for the City of Chester
"Chester's Roman heritage is one of the glories of England. What will future generations think of a city council which, given resonsibility for the largest amphitheatre in Britain, decides to build a courthouse on it? It frankly beggars belief that planning permission was granted in the first place. We should be investing in our cultural heritage and displaying it with pride, not burying it under concrete and tarmac"
Peter Ainsworth, Shadow Culture Secretary