Chester: A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls

The Chester Amphitheatre

Letters to this site and the local press regarding the current development proposals part VI On to parts VII | VIII | IX

16/6/00 On our holiday we visited your historic city and were really delighted what we've seen here: the rows, the cathedral, the wall with its gates, the Roodee and other well-kept historic buildings.
We were surprised to see that you have a Roman amphitheatre too. The day we visited it we saw men removing the banner 'Save our amphitheatre'. We thought about it and asked ourselves what 'save' means. Does it mean keeping it as it is now? Or is there a movement that wants to develop it?
We could imagine a reconstructed amphitheatre with lots of opportunilies for concerts, plays and other cultural events and for architectural and historic research.
You have the chance (other cities envy you). Why not use it?
Claudia Pleyer and Udo Becker, Eisenach Germany

16/6/00 I enclose the coupon re: the excavation of Chester's Roman amphitheatre. What an unhappy business this all is. It is quite unbelievable!
I understand that the HQ of the Police Authority is to be moved to be more central in Cheshire. Presumably, if this is so, that ghastly building opposite the castle will be pulled down. Could the new court not be built on that site, so that all the court areas would be together in one part of Chester? Or is this too simplistic?
Sheila Jones, Foxglove Close, Huntington, Chester

16/6/00 I am just writing to add my support to your campaign to excavate the Chester Roman Amphitheatre. All the arguments have been well-rehearsed, but it seems to me that we have such a unique opportunity here that building should be halted if at all possible. We have the chance to reveal a treasure of importance to Chester and to the UK. I hope you are successful.
The Rev J A Roberts, Overpool Road, Whitby, Ellesmere Port

16/6/00 Your readers may think that everything that could be said about the amphitheatre debacle has already been said.
But pray let Cicero have the last word: O tempora, O mores!
Alan E Comyns, Churchward Close Chester

16/6/00 I think that the amphitheatre site should be excavated. But keep digging in the middle and bury that monstrous matchbox masquerading as the Police HQ. What a find for our descendants in a millennium or two!
I doubt if I shall be alive to see it, but eating all these GM foods I might be grazing there as a sheep. Baa!
Don Musto, Vicars Cross, Chester

16/6/00 I applaud the campaign to excavate our amphitheatre and commend the careful wording which calls on all interested bodies to work together to achieve its fullest possible excavation.
The plea, if successful, will fulfil the Chester Amphitheatre Trust's latest idea of a win-win solution. Even if the county court building is completed on its present site we could enjoy the creation of a more spectacular amphitheatre. The campaign is reminiscent of the earlier 'Remove the Town Hall Flagpoles' campaign. It is to be hoped that this time the city fathers will give proper regard to the demands of public opinion.
Additionally, success requires not only signatures, but also financial support. Many of those who sign up to the campaign add to the Chester Amphitheatre Trust's funds by becoming members.
There are, of course, other ways in which the cause can be forwarded. Much excitement in the city is in store, including the Midsummer Watch Parade on June 24 and 25 and special half-hour millennium performances of the Chester Mystery Plays from June 24 to July 30. An Amphitheatre Trust's input on the periphery of these events would not come amiss.
A Trust Rally is to take place on July 2 at the amphitheatre, proceeding to the Town Hall.
Your June 9 headline 'The Lord Chancellor in the cart', referring to John Gummer's recent Estates Gazette article, was inspired. It offers further opportunity for amphitheatre supporters to present their ideas and gain more widespread support.
Mid-16th century interest was expressed in including Roman material in the Chester Mystery Play cycle. Extra to the Octavian census and Pilate's Play Cycle there could be opportunity to stage a brand new Mystery Play. Costumes are readily available; creative skills abound; the proactivity of the Chester Amphitheatre Trust is legion. The presentation could follow the medieval tradition of taking place on a moveable stage- a decorated wagon or cart which would stop at various points for the play to be performed, eg Abbey Gates, High Cross, Watergate Street and Bridge Street. The performances could be announced by a herald reading Banns, while accompanied by some of the actors in costume. The play could feature a Lord Chancellor character proclaiming a need to replace the amphitheatre by building something modern and utilitarian. The rest of the cast would support preservation/reconstruction as an important feature of city life and cultural heritage.
One thing is certain: Chester must succeed with a further restoration of the amphitheatre (partial or complete) and the creation of an amphimuseum!
Alan Bonner, Meadow Lane, Huntington, Chester

16/6/00 Should the Iaw be upheld, or should it be swept under the concrete? The long-term aspiration of the city council in Chester has been to obtain full ownership of the amphitheatre site, with a view to its excavation. This aim is enshrined in several paragraphs of the Local Plan, which gives the policy of the city towards development.
This policy document, active in 1995, specifically states that any developmont on the whole of the amphitheatre site should be for tourism purposes and should aim towards excavation of the site. Speculative office developments were not allowed at that time, yet the planning permission given states it is for 'offices- user unspecified'. Evidently these local policies were ignored or specifically set aside at the time that planning permission was given for offices to be built on the amphitheatre in 1995.
Now we learn that the council is recommended by its Resources Board to approve the granting of a 200 year lease on Dee House to David McLean Developments Ltd. The developer will refurbish it, at his cost. This effectively gives control of the unexcavated part of the amphitheatre into the hands of one company for the next two centuries- a situation which this council fought against in 1994 when it requested BT to withdraw the whole Dee House site from sale by auction.
Nevertheless, the idea has the support of the Leadership Board of the council which resolved in October I999 that "Approval be given for the council to work with David McLean Developmenls Ltd to deliver the redevelopment of Dee House and Contract Rules be waived as far as necessary in order to negotiate a deal with the named party."
Is this waiving of rules justifiable, or indeed, just? Is this how we all expect the city council to be run? If Chester's amphitheatre site can be built upon and Dee House handed over for office development, with all the policy safeguards which supposedly surround that site, the messages are clear:
1. It is a green light to any developer to build what they like in Chester
2. Government legislation and policies, local and national, are not worth the paper they are written on
3. There is a crisis of leadership in Chester City Council.
Chester Amphitheatre Trust has proposed a way to resolve this crisis without recourse to legal action, without costs to the individual citizens of Chester and without apportioning any blame to individuals. Lack of urgent action by the city council in response only reinforces the third conclusion above.
Dr Liane Smith, Mount Way, Waverton, Chester

23/6/00 When I was 10 years or so old, I learned that all the cities in England whose names ended in the suffix '-chester' were originally Roman. Well, what could be more Roman in origin than a city whose entire name is Chester?
I finally got to visit that magical city last summer but learned to my dismay that much of its Roman antiquities had been destroyed.
While planning a return trip to Chester, I learned of the plans to erect yet another building atop part of vour Roman amphitheatre. I still find this hard to believe. Surely this site can be better used?
I am reminded of what happened in my home town, San Antonio, Texas, some 80 years ago. Our city fathers wanted to encase the San Antonio river in concrete culverts and pave the result over to form a new street. The citizens got wind of this plan, organised themselves and prevented the planned travesty. Today, San Antonio depends heavily on the international tourist trade and our most attractive asset is the Riverwalk, which borders the meandering San Antonio river with walkways, bridges, shops, and restaurants. There is even an amphitheatre there, with the stage on one side of the river and the audience on the other (obviously, it's not a large river). Passenger barges ply the river and tourists mingle with locals there every day. We almost lost this treasure because our officials had no vision.
If such a wonder could be created from a muddy, weed-choked ditch, imagine what wonders could arise from an excavated Roman amphitheatre? It will be a sad day indeed if the planned construction of the court building proceeds.
John Schulze, San Antonio, Texas, USA

23/6/00 Determination to move the amphitheatre cause forward was again shown in Chester city centre during the morning of Saturday June 17, when Dr Liane Smith and her colleagues were gathered by the Cross to collect signatures for a petition in support of Chester Amphitheatre Trust's aims.
The response demonstrated something of the depth of support among those who signed the petition as compared with the strength of opposition or apathy among those who did not.
During two and three quarter hours of canvassing, 1,000 signatures were obtained- an average of one signature gained every 10 seconds. If such dedication were to be intensified during the height of the tourist season, say over a period of 10 weeks with an input of 20 hours per week, the petition's impact and success might be based upon up to 60,000 signatures.
There are now two sets of signatures- that of the Chronicle campaign and that of the Trust's petition. It would be of value to learn how these two sets are to be co-ordinated and presented to optimum effect.
Campaign and petition aside, support has been voiced for the production of a new 'Lord Chancellor and Amphitheatre' play to be presented within the city centre, subsequent to the Millennium Mystery Play Cycle performances. Rumour has it that a script is now available.
Many avenues remain to be explored and difficulties to be surmounted. I propose, in support of the Chronicle campaign and the Chester Amphitheatre Trust petition, the 1940 wartime poster's message of "Your Courage, your Cheerfulness, your Resolution, will bring us Victory". Courage, cheerfulness and resolution must be the order of the day! An alternative and succinct wartime slogan would, perhaps, be more apposite, ie "Dig for Victory".
Chester developed from the Roman vision of the vital role that Deva had to play. Now is the time for Chester to pay homage to its Roman foundation.
Alan Bonner, Meadow Lane, Huntington, Chester

amphitheatre demo23/6/00 Copy of a letter to Lord Irvine of Lairg, The Lord High Chancellor, House of Lords:
Thank you for your letter dated 17th May 2000.
I was concerned about your lack of knowledge regarding the facts surrounding the history of the amphitheatre and the courthouse that your organisation is having built on it.
Many of the inhabitants of Chester believed that as part of the Local Plan for Chester, published in 1988, no development whatsoever was to be allowed over the amphitheatre and that the intention was to excavate the remaining part.
You are right in your statement that the Chester Civic Trust objected to the proposed development. They have been objecting vehemently since March 1995! What you fail to mention is that their objections were not heeded, not even to the extent of re-aligning the proposed building so as not to overlap the amphitheatre below. There would have been serious local opposition if the citizens of Chester had been consulted. As it was the matter was developed between the City Council and David McLean, with the general public totally unaware of the proceedings.
Concerning the archaeological excavations on the site, these were initially undertaken by WJ Williams back in June 1929 in the area of the proposed courthouse. These proved the remains of the outer wall and buttresses to be well preserved.
In May 1993, British Telecom, who then owned the site, funded an archaeological evaluation by Lancaster University. At least 40 trenches were excavated. The report of this work, which runs to 188 pages, concludes that there appear to be few areas of the site where no Roman remains exist. Even under Dee House- the cellars of which only account for about four per cent ofthe total amphitheatre site- important and substantial structural elements still exist.
The excavations to which you refer were, I believe, undertaken in 1994 by the Chester City Archaeologist. These were primarily concerned with the deposits which would be affected by proposals to lower the ground level over the car parking area. They were generally confined to the topsoil layers. You would not expect to find substantial remains of the amphitheatre at this depth. However, it is expected that reasonable remains exist below this level. This information is to be found in Chester's Roman amphitheatre: some facts and figures published by Chester City Council.
The ruined tower of St. John's Church is not within the amphitheatre site as you state, but is located to the outside of the outer wall. The total excavation of the amphitheatre would not affect this if undertaken to the same profile as the presently-exposed portion. The tower would actually be visually more attractive when viewed from across the other side of the amphitheatre.
The position regarding the old convent (Dee House) is questionable. Permission to demolish this building was granted in the 1980s, so presumably its continued existence on this site is not sacrosanct. It would be possible to dismantle this building for relocation elsewhere. I cannot follow your argument for keeping only part of the monument dry, when the remaining 98% will be exposed to rainfall.
In conclusion, this courthouse, which allegedly may not have planning permission, could be built anywhere. Why build it on top of a Scheduled Ancient Monument, condemning the fate of the amphitheatre? Do not be fooled into thinking that when your lease of the courthouse expires in 25 years' time the building will be demolished. McLeans have endeavoured to ensure that the amount of car parking associated with the building will increase at that time.
Chester will have to increasingly rely on tourism as its main attraction in the future. Visitors will not come to look at a courthouse. Why should the residents of Chester and countless thousands of visitors be denied this jewel in the crown for ever? Any city can have an office block, but very few can have an amphitheatre.
I urge you to consider that you can play your part in giving Chester its amphitheatre- while at the same time building your new courthouse, by working with Chester City Council and David McLean to relocate to a more suitable position.
Chester Amphitheatre Trust has proposed a six-point plan to achieve the above aim, and this is now being considered by the city council.
D Andrews, Long Lane, Waverton

23/6/00 I am writing in response to Miss Dora Taylor's letter.
She referred to the Roman amphitheatre as a saucer 'dip' in the land and then said the Georgian Dee House would make a "wonderful art gallery".
Miss Taylor also wrote that "the Grosvenor Museum is said to have stacks of paintings and no room to display them". Has Miss Taylor had her ear to the ground and maybe heard more than most of us about what Chester City Council intends to use Dee House for? And is she trying to break the ice into flow direction for the use of these old rotten buildings?
Maybe the city council should make a statement of this fact now.
I am very interested to find Miss Taylor is now entering into the field of art and painting, and art galleries for Chester. Does the lady paint or practice any other form of art? Can we look forward to her staging a gallery of her own, with some of her writing talents for Chester to see?
As regards an art gallery being formed in this ugly old heap of Dee House buildings that sit on top of the main arena of the amphitheatre, the Dee House rooms are small with bad light, hopeless for art. No! Chester needs a good, well designed building to cover all arts for children, older people and all people of Chester- a modern gallery, on the ground floor and first floor only, with wide access doors and lifts for wheelchairs.
Over the last 10 years I have constantly been working through many channels (the press, councils, art sections etc) to obtain for Chester 'The Louise Rayner Arts Academy', covering all arts. Louise Rayner was my late husband, W J Savage's great-great aunt; she died in 1924. I can place all the fine family of Samuel Rayner of Derby.
Today Grosvenor Museum fully owns about 18-20 Rayner pictures it has bought or acquired as its own property over the years. As is well known in art circles the Grosvenor Museum is holding in care- awaiting for an inquiry of 'Rayner Savage' ownership provenance- my late husband's Louise Rayner art collection, passed under the will of Louise Rayner to my late mother-in-law Florence Savage in 1924.
Also held in the same care with the Rayner collection is my second great art collection- 'The John Galsworthy Bequest Collection' from old John Galsworthy's fine home at Cambridge Gate, London. Young John Galsworthy used and wrote in his books in four sections of The Forsyte Saga of most of these pictures now in store at the Grosvenor Museum. One picture, Thirlmere, is now in the New Tate, on loan from Chester.
I hate to think my two fine art collections could be hung in the ugly heap of old Dee House over what my late husband and myself- in 1934 to 1938 when we very young Brookhirst Drawing Office draughtsmen and women- helped Professor Robert Newstead and his team dig behind St John's House, after work in summer and at weekends. It was later taken down to find Roman pits and remains of seating tiers.
There is Galsworthy money somewhere in Chester to cover a new gallery from the Chester sale to a fine London lady in 1987. And yes, I do know the great amount of paintings now held at the Grosvenor Museum, and am so sad to think that Miss Taylor is correct- there is no fine art gallery to hang them on the walls.
But the great value of the John Galsworthy Bequest Collection is better kept in a bank, and not at Dee House. Sorry to say, I do not agree with Miss taylor's comments on the amphitheatre.
Mrs Bess Savage

28/6/00 Having been on missionary work to bring a decent 'North West' sense of humour to Dorset for the past 10 years, I have only just found out about the idea for the Court development.
I spent 5 years working in Dee House for BT when it housed the switchboard and repair centre. As part of my duties as Officer In Charge of the building, I have intimate knowledge from basement to roof. I even have a Polaroid of the building on my desk at work to this day.
I knew of the plans for the Roman Theme park which I thought were flawed but I am dumbfounded by the latest plans- what's next ? Let's convert the Cathedral into a nightclub !
Tony Roberts, Poole, Dorset

29/6/00 I have read about Chester; I have read about Chester's Amphitheatre. Before giving my opinion I waited until I visited Chester. It is a marvelous city with deep roots in an ancient past. It is also a city that functions well today.
I cannot believe however that the citizens of Britain, who have spread their language and culture throughout the world, would be so meek before their own politicians. In America we call them public servants and they are expected to perform as such.
Please preserve your amphitheatre; preserve the elements you are made of. If you still insist on destroying it, send it to us!
Lawrence C. Gropp USA

29/6/00 I may have missed someone else making this point during the lengthy debate on saving a key monument. But, how does the City Council square the need to build a major administration centre with its numerous workers, visitors and alleged law breakers in the city centre with the desire to keep the car out of the city? Where will the court car park be? Will judges and felons be expected to get the park & ride? I doubt it, that will be left to the jurors and witnesses probably!
Good luck in your campaign.
A life long Cestrian

30/6/00 Last week the chief executive of Chester City Council, Mr Paul Durham, defended his staff. Unfortunately, there are two reasons why so many Chester people and visitors question what has been going on.
The first reason is what is perceived as the secrecy and haste with which McLeans and the Lord Chancellor managed to get work started on the county court development so as to beat the June 2000 deadline when the permission would have lapsed.
The second reason is a proposal that McLeans should be given a 200-year lease if they develop Dee House.
It is not long since a council circular stressed the importance of listening to the views of residents. Is it too late to ask them not allow any development of Dee House?
John Wolfenden, Thackeray Drive, Chester

30/6/00 I enclose my own coupon from the Chronicle and also a petition organised by Daniel Mumby who is 12 years old. He was inspired to do this after hearing about the amphitheatre row in a school assembly.
I can see that there are many arguments for and against. However, it seems to me that there are overwhelming reasons to say 'NO', even if it is rather late in the day and may prove to be expensive. The amphitheatre is part of our historical heritage. Nothing can replace this and if we lose it now it will not be recovered in our lifetime, or that of my students.
Chester's popularity and economy relies on tourism which in turn relies much on our Roman remains. The voice of the people is strongly in favour of excavation. The government are worried about local democracy and low turnout in elections. We ignore popular opinion on an issue which is truly local at our peril.
Last week I 'showed off' Chester to a group of visiting Swedish teachers. They refused to believe that Chester City Council was presiding over this act of vandalism. On reflection, so do I.
Michael Carding, Headteacher, Bishop Heber High School, Chester Road, Malpas

30/6/00 Dear Citizens of Cheshire, I am writing to you to tell you about a proposed petition to save Chester's amphitheatre.
The building was built nearly two millennia ago. A building company has had planning permission from the Chester City Council to build a car park over the remains of the amphitheatre. This would prevent any excavation for at least a decade. If you are against it, please sign below. The names on the petition are as follows... (names omitted)
Daniel Mumby (age12), Bishop Heber High School, Chester Road, Malpas

30/6/00 I'm just writing to you to congratulate you on a truly superb site! I've lived in Chester all my life and I work for Kingkab in Bridge Street as a taxi driver, in fact that is how I found your website, another taxi driver told me about it.
The proposed loss of our amphitheatre is disgraceful, I didn't even find out about until I saw the banner in its original position, I'm glad that it now hangs on the steel work of the Mill Hotel's extension. In the course of my work I pick up (and talk) to hundreds of people per week, I am making a point of telling them about our amphitheatre- it's amazing how many still don't know about it. The response I'm getting, especially from overseas customers is shock and amazement.
Because I travel around our city every night and see more of it than your average Cestrian I am not totally surprised by the council, to put it bluntly they are a bunch of incompetents especially the planning department, many of whom, most probably, don't even live in our fine city.
Just to tell you that I for one, in my own small way, am supporting the campaign to save our amphitheatre.
Yours Sincerely
Stephen Wilson

Press Release: 3 July, 2000: Prospective Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, David Jones, today unveiled new proposals from the Conservative Party which will transform the planning system in Chester.
Mr Jones remarked: "Planning is an emotive topic, generating a vast amount of correspondence for MPs and councillors alike. The current planning process is weighted against local communities and residents. The system is centralised and bureaucratic, and increasingly results in the Secretary of State overriding the wishes of our local councils, forcing unwanted planning decisions on local communities.
The issue of Chester Amphitheatre is an example of the way that the old, outdated planning procedures have failed the local community. The Conservative proposals, when implemented, will ensure that the public will be better informed about planning applications. There will be a legal obligation for councils to inform in writing all local residents within a set radius of a planning application (e.g. 50 metres, and wider for bigger developments), rather than just notifying adjoining properties or putting up a site display notice.
The outcry over the immensely unpopular Amphitheatre development would have been heard, and addressed, much sooner if wider publicity had been obligatory.
Conservatives pledge the biggest overhaul of the planning system for fifty years, giving power back to the residents of Chester and taking it away from the bureaucrats in Whitehall.
The key proposals from the Conservatives include:
Local Discretion on Local Development: Conservatives will abolish regional and national housebuilding targets. Regional planning guidance will also be abolished. The power of the Secretary of State to interfere in planning appeals will be removed. Instead, local communities will decide on the appropriate level of development in their local area. Labour's diktats forcing more housebuilding on the countryside will be replaced with an emphasis by the Conservatives on urban regeneration- making existing towns and cities a more attractive place to live.
Encouraging Local Materials & Local Architecture: Conservatives want to restore the sense of character and local identity in towns and villages. Local councils will be allowed to specify that new developments must use specified local materials or conform to local architecture. This will prevent a country of identikit, uniform homes, and will ensure that new developments are in keeping with local neighbourhoods. Sensitive areas such as Chester, which have been particularly badly affected by inappropriate development, will particularly benefit.
A Right of Counter Appeal: Conservatives will introduce a level playing field on planning. Currently, big developers are able to bully and out-spend local communities, taking a proposed development to (expensive) appeals. Conservatives will streamline the appeals system to make it quicker and more accessible. Local residents will also be given the right of counter-appeal: being able to appeal against a new development if the development contradicts a councils' local development plan or if the plan was silent on a big development. This will give new powers to local communities to protect their neighbourhoods from inappropriate development.

6/7/00 In Chester we have the Roman Walls, Hypercaust, one half of an excavated Amphitheatre, St. Johns Church and Ruins, the Anchorite Cell, the River Dee and the Groves. Slap bang in the middle an absolutely ridiculous court building is being erected and even worse over part of the unexcavated ruins.
It is an area which is a vital part of the city's heritage and should be developed for history and tourism. This ridiculous development is being funded by and against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of taxpayers whose protestations (including vast numbers of foreigners) are being totally ignored.
I suggest therefore that due to our total dissatisfaction as taxpayers we reserve the right to divert payment of our taxes- council, business rates or whatever into a 'Save Chester Amphitheatre Fund' to be free of all legal or political influence. The fund would be utilised to establish and resolve the rights and wishes of taxpayers and tourists in this matter until satisfactory consent of taxpayers is expressed. The fund would be strictly controlled and audited monthly by the Audit Commission until such times as the matter be resolved and funds remaining to be handed back to appropriate authorities.
Save our amphitheatre and move the court!
Incensed taxpayer

7/7/00 Like most of the residents of the City of Chester, I am appalled at the building works now under way over the amphitheatre.
I congratulate the Chester Amphitheatre Trust for all they are doing to halt this ill considered development.
What the Trust is doing is what our elected representatives, our councillors, should have done in the first place. But none of our councillors has admitted to knowing what was implied when planning permission was given five years ago. This implies either incompetence or, more seriously, a lack of proper briefing from the council officials.
If it is the second, it supports the view that the council hasn't got a grip of what its officials are doing anonymously. What is clear is that little more than lip service is paid to the process of consultation.
But, if the present development is to be stopped, there must be a reasonable alternative to the location of the new court. What about the two splendid buildings in the castle complex which are currently advertised 'to let'? These buildings are the ones on the right hand side of the square (once the Officers' Mess) and the one behind it towards County Hall. Location of a new court here would clearly be more practical and undoubtedly more prestigious. It would certainly be a better idea than hiding the court down the back of an alley and on top of very special Roman remains.
S J Cooper, Hough Green, Chester

7/7/00 Perhaps Chester City Council should take a Ieaf out of the book of Labour-controlled Erewash Borough Council in Derbyshire. They have scrapped the post of chief executive and, with the £60,000 saved by dividing his duties between other senior officials, are hiring five street sweepers.
An article in the Daily Mail (June 22) said: 'A great deterioration in the standards of local government can be traced back to the Sixties when town clerks began to call themselves chief executives and delude themselves that they were on a par with giant business corporations with all the attendant trappings'.
'Town clerk' was the perfect description of the post. It kept a man in his place and reminded him he was a mere penpusher. Once they made him chief executive he became too big for his boots, with a swish office, a swish car, a fancy policy unit and a chief of communications. But did he get the streets swept? In the case of Erewash, a council spokesman said: "Most of our complaints are about the condition of our streets. We have mechanical sweepers, but they can't get into nooks and crannies like a man with a broom".
Nooks and crannies are what local government used to be all about. Perhaps if Paul Durham came down on to the streets of Chester he might hear a few more home truths about what people really think.
Geraldine M Bell, Ashton

7/7/00 A quick read of the letters in local newspapers is enough to convince anyone that Chester City Council has got a big credibility problem with many of its citizens.
The large majority of its staff is, as Mr Durham says, very hardworking. Their hard work is undermined by the collective style, manner and tactics of the council's chief executive and senior officers, which have more in common with that of a single party state than that of a 21st century democratic European country.
Having been present at the Head of Planning's report on April 26 about the 'change of use' issue with the courthouse, it was only too clear that elected councillors should assert some authority over the officers in the planning department who appeared to be running totally out of control.
It is high time that Mr Durham began to provide some simple answers to the questions raised by people in the papers, rather than relying upon the contortions of the council's spin doctors, whose chief role seems to be in misleading people.
John Smith, Waverton

amphitheatre demo7/7/00 Oh dear! The council is upset by what Alan Williams has said about them and their actions. He is only saying what most Cestrians are thinking. After all, these are the people who give planning permission in the first place for a building on top of a known and important Roman amphitheatre.
It makes you wonder what goes on, doesn't it?
Our local MP (Christine Russell) was also involved in this decision. Perhaps it may be advisable to bring in the 'spin doctors' after the demonstration this Sunday (illustrated right) to make her and the council's position look less dodgy. Perhaps she will even come off the fence and do something to help Cestrians save the amphitheatre.
Or is action too much to expect of a politician?
Michael Morris, Church Lane, Upton, Chester

7/7/00 Knock down the Chester Walls and St John the Baptist church AD 689. A load of very old garbage. Knock the lot down so the tourists will have nothing to look at. Just think of all the land waiting to be built on.
So why get rid of the amphitheatre when there's not a hamlet, town or city who would not give their all to have one? They must think our council are nuts. There could not be any other motive. No politician or builder would stoop so low as to make money out of this abomination. Talk of backhanders and greasy palms should be frowned upon.
In 100 years from now, let them rebuild the walls, amphitheatre and St John's. Then the cycle can start again.
W Hill, Huntington

7/7/00 When Jane Kennedy writes that "In 1995 Chester City Council decided that this development should proceed and granted full planning permission", she obscures the central planning issue by using the ambiguous little word 'this'.
The council did not grant permission for a courthouse but for an office building. To the man on the Clapham omnibus, a courthouse is not an office building: Had the citizens known in 1997 that the site was being considered for a courthouse the outcry would have started then, but alas they did not.
Alan E Comyns, Churchward Close, Chester

7/7/00 The amphitheatre is a site of Roman occupation too valuable to lose- locally, nationally and in a world context.
Bernadette Bowes and Virginia Bowes, Five Lanes End, Liverpool Road Neston

14/7/00 I read Jane Kennedy's letter on the amphitheatre with great interest but would query one or two points.
Some of us have been expressing serious concern about the use of the site since long before 1995. Reference to newspaper records would confirm this.
As to the real purpose of the rest of the letter, is it not in fact a tacit recognition that democracy might win, is it not in fact the beginnings of making excuses and get-outs? All the letter really does is place the whole of the blame for what happened where we all know it should be- with Chester City Council for their seeming secrecy and total lack of proper use of the democratic process.
How many more times must they be allowed to get away with crackpot ideas and schemes totally at odds with what people want and then hide behind the cost of restoration?
If these people really were financially responsible for their decisions, they would have to be decided democratically and could never be secret. This is our amphitheatre, not the council's or the Lord Chancellor's. We have precious little of Roman Chester, let's not lose another piece of it, especially one of such significance.
One final comment on Dora Taylor's fatuous ramblings. She would no doubt want to lose all the evidence of things like the Holocaust etc. Grow up, Dora.
Alex Woods, Great Barrow, Cheshire

14/7/00 What a wonderful result was produced at Chester City Council's meeting last Wednesday (July 5) by the forces of democracy and common sense!
Thank goodness so many Chester city councillors are beginning to take notice of public opinion. If only Lord Irvine of Lairg was as democratic.
Recently, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, claimed that local councils were subject to so much government control that they had no more independence than the Vichy regime in France under the Nazis.
He accused 'aliens' in the Treasury of undermining local government and said they treated democratically elected people with contempt.
Mr Livingstone told the newspaper of the Local Government Association that it was time for a fightback from councils.
Many people will be astonished to find they agree with Ken Livingstone, as I do.
Peter Moore Dutton, Tushingham

14/7/00 Can someone explain why the two empty Cheshire Regiment buildings in the Castle Square couldn't be used for a new court?
There's space and access and parking and they are very dignified buildings.
A friend was last week brandishing a picture of the market hall, which was demolished in 1967. People wouldn't believe that it could have been legally demolished.
Anne Stewart, Saughall

21/7/00 Chester Amphitheatre Trust supports the full excavation of the Roman amphitheatre because it believes that this is what the vast majority of people in Chester want. The trust is currently setting up a special fund to pay for the archaeological works and expects to raise more than £200,000 each year.
It is very important for the future of our historic city that the demolition or relocation of Dee House and the relocation of the new county court building are given a fair hearing. Your letters page last week carried three letters supporting the retention of Dee House in one form or another. I I am concerned that some supporters of Dee House have other things in mind. There is a small but outspoken minority of people who support the retention of Dee House because it will hide the ugly facade of the new county court. These people should declare their true interest and join the fight to move the court building. The debate over the future of Dee House must be open and honest to ensure that the final decision takes account of the true feelings of all Cestrians.
It was a mistake to allow the new court development. It will be a disgraceful mistake if public opinion is ignored to ensure that the court is kept hidden by Dee House.
Alan Williams, Vice-chairman, Chester Amphitheatre Trust

21/7/00 Many thanks to the hundreds of people who turned out to demonstrate against the Lord Chancellor's decision to build a courthouse and car park on top of Chester's amphitheatre. Thanks, too, to all the 6,000 people who took the trouble to sign our petition requesting the Lord Chancellor to move his court off the amphitheatre site and supporting excavation of the site.
I know many more people would like to sign, but we have made the point that there is strong support, just because of the speed with which those signatures were democratically collected- in just over 15 hours.
Sadly, petitions carry little weight, but your letters definitely do. Please continue to write to the Lord Chancellor at the House of Lords, London SW1A OPW, telling him that Chester will be putting together an outstanding case for the excavation of the amphitheatre, and that his building is now the sole remaining obstacle to achieving the aim of realising the full potential of the site.
It is now appropriate that he reconsiders his decision, in response to the democratically expressed wish of the majority of local people, and in recogition of the great loss to Britain in not carrying out the planned archaeological research work to the full.
The Chester Amphitheatre Trust continues to believe that the Lord Chancellor should find a different site for the county court. It didn't make sense to choose the amphitheatre site when the news first came out, and it makes less sense now.
Dr Liane Smith, Trustee, Chester Amphitheatre Trust

28/7/00 I read with interest the letter from Dora Taylor. She may be interested to hear that I was one of the 'howling mob' mentioned in her piece. I am a software developer, I pay my taxes and so on. How do you feel you can stereotypically class me as a mob member?
The amphitheatre wasn't placed in any old field- it was placed in what is now Chester city centre. In the same language that stated the amphitheatre was just a 'dip in the ground', perhaps then it would be fair to say that Dee House is just an old building of which there are many fine examples in the UK.
It is also fair to say that there are far fewer examples of amphitheatres in the land. After all, Buckingham Palace is just an old building- so why not knock that down and build a car park, which would have more use to our capital? Perhaps the palace is a point of interest throughout the globe and also part of our national heritage. In the same vein, maybe there are far more car parks throughout the land than there are palaces, therefore I'm sure I would rather pay money to see the palace than a car park.
I feel that a completely excavated amphitheatre may bring in more trade to the city centre shops, with an increased influx of visitors, than any courthouse or car park. The extra income from the visitors could then be used to combat complexes such as Cheshire Oaks, which is far more likely to be the cause ot the falling city centre trade than pedestrianisation.
I am a recent addition to the population of Chester and I have to confess I felt pride when I marched through the city centre to state my views as a member ot this democratic nation.
Chester needs the amphitheatre. We say scrap the court, as there is always more to be seen, and we all need to know about our heritage.
Stephen Lynch, Thomas Brassey Close, Hoole, Chester

Now go on to the next selection of letters about the Chester amphitheatre...

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The Other Side: some alternative views | Save our Amphitheatre! (1932) | 'Round in Circles' by Flavius