Funding setback for Roman racing track

THERE was disappointment last night after it emerged a town has missed out on nearly �1million funding towards a major historical tourist attraction.

James Hore

THERE was disappointment last night after it emerged a town has missed out on nearly �1million funding towards a major historical tourist attraction.

Colchester is home to the only Roman chariot racing track in Britain and plans were underway to create a visitor centre to view the site from above ground.

The “Roman Circus” was discovered during archaeological excavations in 2004 and has been the subject of much debate about whether enough was being done to fulfil its potential as an attraction.

Late last year Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service put in a bid for �950,000 funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the first stage of their “Roman Circus Interpretation Project”.

The money was to be used towards developing a covered building to conserve the site and allow people to enjoy the Roman Circus, potentially creating a major tourist attraction for Britain's oldest recorded town.

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But a regional committee from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has confirmed the bid has been rejected.

Both the “heritage importance” and high level of public interest were recognised by the committee, which praised the idea before saying demand for funds was very high, with not enough money available due to the volume of applications.

Theresa Higgins, in charge of culture, tourism and diversity at Colchester Borough Council, said efforts would be made to revise the scheme, but said it was now unlikely there would be a visitor centre.

She said: “This is not the end of the Roman Circus project. The borough council is committed to making the Roman Circus site available to the people of Colchester.

“We are disappointed that the HLF were not swayed by the international importance of the site as the only Roman Circus known from Britain.”

Adrian Pritchard, council chief executive, said: Clearly this is disappointing for the council, but will not stop us interpreting the site in the best way for the people of Colchester.”

The rejection means the council failed to get a “first round pass” and development grant which would then have also allowed access to more funding for the entire project at a later stage.

The museum service said it will now revise the bid before resubmitting it and further funding options will be looked at.

An “interim interpretation” will now be put together so visitors are still able to learn more about the track which was granted Ancient Monument status.

Philip Wise, heritage manager for the museum service, said: “Whilst this is disappointing for the people of Colchester, there are further opportunities that we will pursue to develop this richly historic site.

“In the interim period we will interpret the site so that visitors and residents of the town can enjoy this rare monument.”