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Culture minister to visit Roman circus

PUBLISHED: 09:00 25 June 2008 | UPDATED: 19:40 10 March 2010

A GOVERNMENT minister has pledged that if necessary she will visit an Essex town to discuss its plans for a major archaeological discovery that is the first of its kind in the UK.

A GOVERNMENT minister has pledged that if necessary she will visit an Essex town to discuss its plans for a major archaeological discovery that is the first of its kind in the UK.

The foundations of a huge Roman Circus - a chariot racetrack with seating for thousands of spectators - were found buried beneath land earmarked for a residential development at Abbey Field in Colchester.

But after they were examined by archaeologists they were covered up with earth again because of fears they would perish if left open to the elements.

Now, under proposals from developers, the buried circus could end up surrounded by housing, with the remains of an integral part - the gates where the charioteers would ride from - lying beneath a private garden.

Yesterday, however, the town's MP Bob Russell said he hoped the intervention of Culture Minister Margaret Hodge could lead to a change in the plans.

Speaking in the House of Commons during Culture Questions on Monday, Mr Russell said: “In November 2004, the most exciting archaeological discovery for decades occurred - the discovery of the only Roman chariot racing stadium in Britain.

“The setting of the Roman Circus is now threatened with residential development.

“Will the relevant Minister come to Colchester with officials and representatives of English Heritage?

“This is a matter of national and international importance, and more than just a matter for a local authority to determine.”

Responding, Mrs Hodge said: “I am always interested in issues of national importance.

“I suggest that Mr Russell writes to me with the details so that I can consider the matter properly. If it requires me to visit his constituency, of course I shall be happy to do so.”

Yesterday Mr Russell said that he had written to Mrs Hodge with background information about the Roman Circus.

“I am hopeful that she will visit, and that English Heritage and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, along with the Heritage Lottery Fund, will wish to be involved,” he said.

On Monday Liberal Democrat Mr Russell also met representatives of the National Heritage Memorial Fund at the House of Commons to discuss the national importance of the circus.

The former Conservative administration at Colchester Borough Council - which was voted out in May - had put forward plans for an unmanned visitor centre on part of the site to act as an “interpretation” point for the buried ruins.

But since a new alliance of parties took control at the town hall, there have been discussions about alternative options, including some that would keep the location of the gates open to the public.

Two people have been killed in a collision on a road near Newmarket.

Fears have been raised that Suffolk may have a systemic problem with how children’s homes are run after a third establishment was given a poor Ofsted rating in the last 10 weeks.

Jennifer Pearson from Felixstowe claims she had dog mess shoved through her letter box, her tyres slashed, and even had people spit at her – leaving her youngest daughter in tears.

Sixteen people were rescued from rising water after four cars and a bus got stuck in high tide on The Strood crossing at Mersea Island.

A community close to the Essex Suffolk border has been left shocked and saddened following the death of a pedestrian.

The heart of two communities shone through as well-wishers - including an MP - rushed to help people injured in two serious falls.

Suffolk may have enjoyed an almost frost-free winter so far, but the big freeze descended on one town this weekend and so did scores of visitors enticed by the ice.

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