Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECS to 80360, or email »
Colchester: Roman circus to be sold alongside sergeant's mess
7:00am Friday 20th February 2009 in News
A prized historic site housing the starting gates of Colchester's unique Roman circus is to be put up for sale.
Developer Taylor Wimpey wants to sell the Sergeants' Mess and Army Education Centre at Le Cateau Road, Colchester.
And that would mean the gardens, which cover the remains of the chariot track's eight starting gates, will also be sold.
Taylor Wimpey won permission convert the buildings into 11 townhouses and four flats last year.
As part of the planning agreement, the Sergeants’ Mess gardens stayed privately owned but with the public allowed access to them each day between 10am and 5pm.
Taylor Wimpey project manager Robert Taylor said the firm had now decided it was not financially viable to carry out the redevelopment of the two historic buildings.
However, he said the firm still intended to proceed with plans for a new housing development which was approved as part of the plans.
Mr Taylor added: "At the moment, the market is such that what we will get for the Sergeants' Mess and the Education Building is not as fincially as good we we would like.
"Therefore, we will not be proceeding with it. The new build, we will do ourselves."
Peter Herring, who is a volunteer with the Colchester Archaeological Trust, said the chance to buy the Sergeants' Mess and its gardens and the Education Building was a golden opportunity too good to be missed.
And he urged the council to step forward to buy the buildings to save them and the gardens for prosterity.
An earlier bid to buy the buildings for about £800,000 failed - but Mr Herring said the price may now have dropped in the current economic climate.
He suggested the Sergeants' Mess could be converted into a heritage centre for the Roman circus and a Victorian military museum.
And he said the Education Centre would be a perfect home for the Colchester Archaeological Trust which has been given notice to quit its base in Lexden Road.
Mr Herring said: "History is what defines a town. Without it, a town has no soul.
"Our Roman and Victorian heritage is there. I also believe there is a longer term heritage value by protecting the gardens and getting them into public ownership.
"I know times are difficult but if you have money there has never been a better time to buy.
"With interest rates as they are, the council is not earning much money on its cash deposits.
"It makes business sense to buy something at a low price which will benefit the whole town.
"It will also attract tourists to the area which will generate income."
Mr Herring said it might also be an opportunity for a consortium made up of investers and interested groups to snap up a bargain.
Alistair Day, conservation and deisgn officer for the council, said the conditions which existed on the Sergeants' Mess garden allowing public access would continue, regardless of who owned the site.
However, he added: "That does not mean there cannot be a fresh application for alterations."