Homes to be built next to former barracks and Roman Circus site

Chariot starting gates from the Roman Circus

Chariot starting gates from the Roman Circus being uncovered at Colchester. Land near the site will be used for housing - Credit: ANDREW PARTRIDGE

A site containing some of Colchester’s most valuable historical assets is one step closer to redevelopment, after the council accepted a new design brief this week.

The council hopes the site, which is home to the only known Roman Circus in Britain and a former army barracks, will become a residential development.

Speaking in support of the brief, former Lib Dem MP Sir Bob Russell urged the council to buy the Army Base Repair Organisation (ABRO) – now called the Defence Support Group (DSG) – site from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO).

He said: “Tonight is another important step forward and I congratulate all involved. My concern is, people only think about today. The decisions that are made on the Roman Circus site and the ABRO site will be there for generations.

“It’s not just doing a financial fix now because the DIO wanted the money, it’s to come forward with a comprehensive scheme that is of total benefit not only for today but for generations to follow and the only way you have a realistic chance of achieving that is for the borough council to have total control.”

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The site is 300 metres south of the town centre and was used as a military vehicle repair facility. It was constructed in 1874 and vacated in 2019.

Volunteers work on a dig at the Colchester Archaeological Trust headquarters

Volunteers work on a dig at the Colchester Archaeological Trust headquarters at the Roman Circus - Credit: SU ANDERSON

Along the southern edge of the site lies the Roman Circus Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM), which was discovered in 2005. The Benedictine Abbey of St John, established in 1059, is also located to the east.

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The new design brief provides a framework for future developments, earmarking the site as for a residential scheme.

No development will be allowed within a buffer zone of the Roman Circus. Development of other parts of the site will first need extensive archaeological investigation.

Labour councillor Julie Young called the brief “a tremendous piece of work.”

“It does give us some protection and gives us a framework in terms of unifying the Roman Circus and making more of that in terms of visitor attraction,” she said.

Now the Local Plan Committee has approved the design brief, cabinet will decide whether to approach the DIO to buy the land on September 1.

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