Roman past 'neglected'

COLCHESTER councillors should “hang their heads in shame” at the neglect of the town's Roman heritage, it has been claimed.

COLCHESTER councillors should “hang their heads in shame” at the neglect of the town's Roman heritage, it has been claimed.

The accusation comes from Dennis Willetts, himself a borough councillor, who is furious about what he says is the continued lack of funds being spent on the “exceptional” historic sites.

He has now demanded to know why Colchester Borough Council does not have a financial plan for preserving its Roman heritage which includes the only chariot racing track in Britain.

Mr Willetts told the EADT his criticism was motivated by a letter from the Association of Roman Archaeology which criticised the stewardship of the town's heritage.

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Among the town's historical gems are its walls, the Temple of Claudius, Balkerne Gate and Gosbecks Archaeological Park, believed to be the location of the surrender of the leaders of the British tribes to Emperor Claudius in AD43.

The council is now considering re-establishing a heritage reserve so it can be more proactive in its approach.

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Mr Willetts said other towns and councils would think themselves lucky to have just one of Colchester's historical attractions.

He said: “We have to put our money where our mouth is - if we want the Roman Heritage to be a permanent tourist attraction we have to plan properly and work out how much we want to spend on it each year - there needs to be a strategy.

“This seems to get relegated to the bottom of the pile on every occasion other than once in a while and the funding it very much hand-to-mouth.

“The members of the council should be ashamed, they should hang their heads in shame at their neglect of our Roman heritage.

“Certainly, funds have been found from time-to-time for emergency repairs to the walls.

“But even the funding of the proposed information centre at the Roman Circus hangs in the balance because it is dependent on lottery and other grants rather than assured funding from the council's own coffers.”

He called for each of the 10 historic sites to be assessed to help establish funding for a maintenance and preservation strategy.

Theresa Higgins, in charge of culture at the council, said she agreed the town needed to be more proactive in its approach.

“We are going to try to reinstate the heritage reserve, maybe in a slightly different way and we have to be more proactive so that we are like the Forth Road Bridge where the work is never ending and once at the end you start again.”

The council is now considering using interest from ring-fenced bank accounts towards the heritage fund.

“I think, ideally, it would be good to have a base of three to four million sitting there to gain interest on to do the work.

“People have to understand we are not Chester or York, much of our Roman heritage is under the streets,” she said.

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