WORK has begun to transform a historic building - blighted in the past by anti-social behaviour - into eight luxury homes.

Breithorn Homes has planning permission to convert the derelict Sergeants’ Mess, in Le Cateau Road, Colchester, into six two storey and two three storey houses.

The Grade II listed building was first built in 1861 as part of Le Cateau barracks, the first permanent military camp in the town.

It survived over 120 years as a functioning element of the town’s garrison, however, in recent years the building has been blighted by problems with anti-social behaviour.

In 2014 it was devastated by a huge fire which left little more than a charred shell.

Gazette: The fire at the Sergeants' Mess in 2014The fire at the Sergeants' Mess in 2014

The roof was replaced by then owners Taylor Wimpey, but trespassers have been consistently spotted roaming the premises in the years since.

But work has now begun on site to bring the premises back into use as residential dwellings.

Michael Tomkins, managing director of Breithorn Developments, said the firm was committed to preserving the building’s original character.

“Given the building’s local importance and significant grandeur, we continue to liaise with the heritage officer to design the building sympathetically to provide some unique homes,” he said.

“With large floor areas, high ceilings and a quality fit out, we would hope to launch the development in the summer of 2020.

“Fronting onto the starting gates and gardens of the Roman chariot racing circus, the completed development will offer residents with a unique residential experience in the heart of Colchester.

“We are excited to bring this project forward and enabling works have now commenced on site whilst the design is being refined with the local authority.”

The starting gates of the UK’s only Roman circus are under the Sergeants’ Mess’s garden.

Some years ago, Colchester Archaeological Trust attempted to buy the site, before settling on the cheaper and better condition education centre nearby which is now the Roman Circus Visitor Centre.

Colchester Councillor Beverly Davies (Con, Prettygate), lives in Roman Circus Walk.

She said the site badly needed developing but raised concerns about the number of units proposed.

“The site needs a lot of care and they need to keep as many of the original features as possible,” she added.

“The plans do look stunning and I am interested to see what the market value is.

“I wouldn’t want the units to be just crammed in there, the new homes should be sympathetic to the building.”

Berefords, which will be marketing the properties once they are complete, is looking to source old photos of the building, or hear from people who used to work there.