Culture minister to visit Roman circus

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.

Roddy Ashworth

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.


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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.

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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.

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