Monument plans could 'harm' Roman chariot racing track

Excavations being carried out in Colchester after the discovery of a Roman Chariot race track

Excavations being carried out in Colchester after the discovery of a Roman Chariot race track - Credit: James Fletcher

An ancient Roman chariot racing track's remains could be at risk of "harm" if a proposed monument commemorating a historic army barracks is built at the site.

Historic England has objected to a planning application for a commemorative monument and two blue plaques, which would recognise the Royal Artillery Barracks as one of the earliest in the Colchester Garrison.

The applicant Sergeants Mess Ltd says it is “surprised” by the objection and that Historic England provided no evidence or rationale.

The Roman Circus, or chariot racing track, is the only one of its kind in Britain, and one of only six in the north west provinces of the Roman Empire.

roman racing

Crowds during the open day tours of the Roman chariot circus discovered at Colchester garrison - Credit: Clifford Hicks

It is a scheduled ancient monument, which means in planning law it is protected from developments that “lead to less than substantial harm”, according to the objection.

However, the monument to the barracks would celebrate “a very important part of Colchester’s military history”, according to the applicant’s response.

Historic England argues the setting of the Roman circus contributes to its significance and how it is experienced, which a commemorative monument nearby would interrupt.

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A section of the objection read: “In our view, the proposed erection of a commemorative monument would have a negative impact upon the setting of the scheduled monument and would result in less than substantial harm to the significance of the monument.”

It continued: “We are not convinced that the proposed development would deliver public benefit that is sufficient to outweigh the harm that we have identified to the scheduled monument, and we therefore object to this planning application.”

Archaeologists working at the Colchester Roman chariot racing track site

Archaeologists working at the Colchester Roman chariot racing track site - Credit: James Fletcher

Historic England is also recommending a new location for the monument is found, away from the circus.

Sergeants Mess Ltd said: “We would submit that there is no demonstrable harm caused by these proposals to the significance of the Roman Circus Ancient Monument and request the planning authority to approve both the construction of the Le Cateau Artillery Barracks Monument and the two Commemorative Blue Plaques.”

The response also draws attention to a block of modern flats built near the site, claiming it is “difficult to justify” why their construction was deemed acceptable, but not that of the monument.