ARCHAEOLOGISTS say they are “disappointed” their plans for a Roman chariot racing heritage centre have been publicly criticised by a one-time supporter of the project.
Colchester Archaeological Trust hopes to create a visitor centre on the site where the starting gates of Britain’s only Roman circus were unearthed in 2004.
The plan was backed by hundreds Gazette readers who pledged money to help buy the former sergeants’ mess building in Le Cateau Road.
All along, the trust has said only part of the building’s ground floor would be used for the centre, with part converted into offices for the trust and the rest sold off for housing.
Now Bill Hayton, co-ordinator of the successful appeal to raise £200,000 towards the scheme, has broken ranks and criticised the proposals.
He says too little space in the building is to be given over to displays connected with the Roman circus.
Mr Hayton thinks the trust should launch a fresh appeal to allow more of the building to be kept for heritage use.
He has formally objected to the trust’s planning application for the centre and e-mailed dozens of people connected to the project about his concerns.
Mr Hayton explained: “The decision to hand a large profit to a private developer, rather than creating a top-class visitor interpretation centre, is a betrayal of the expectations of all the people who gave money, time and effort to the appeal.
“Destination Colchester stands ready to repeat the success of its previous fundraising to ensure the quarter of the building currently up for sale is available for heritage, education and community activities.”
However, Philip Crummy, director of the archeological trust, insists the proposal remains the surest way to guarantee the site can be saved for posterity.
He said: “This project is not so much about the sergeants’ mess, but rather, the front garden.
“The garden is where the circus starting gates once stood and will be the major focus of the historical interpretation in the new centre.”
He added it would not be enough simply to raise the purchase price for the unsold part of the building. The trust would then still need find money for urgent repairs, as a condition of its mortgage offer.
He added: “It was recognised at the very beginning of the project, purchase of the whole building would not be necessary to gain ownership of the garden.
“It has always been envisaged about half the building would be in private ownership. The business plan and vision produced at the beginning of the public appeal made this clear.”