PLANS for a Roman chariot circus visitor centre in Colchester could fail for the lack of £200,000.

A consortium, which is looking to create the centre, has had offers from two bidders who between them are prepared to put up half the £400,000 needed from private investors to secure the project.

But the January deadline is fast approaching and Philip Crummy, of Colchester Archaeological Trust, said he was “pessimistic” of finding a third backer.

The trust has formed the consortium with community group Destination Colchester in the hope of purchasing a Victorian Sergeants’ Mess, the grounds of which contain the starting gates of the recently-discovered circus.

Mr Crummy and his staff face eviction as Essex County Council wants to sell their current base in Lexden Road.

Instead, they hope to secure a relocation grant and mortgage in order to buy half of the former mess.

The consortium is confident it could secure lottery funds to create a visitor centre, housing historical displays and a cafe downstairs, with the trust’s offices above.

The deal hinges on finding investors with enough money to buy the other half of the building from developer Taylor Wimpey, with a view to converting it into flats.

Taylor Wimpey is supportive of the scheme, but needs to make back the money it paid out and will sell the property on the open market if the missing £200,000 is not found by the New Year.

Mr Crummy said: “It is quite a complicated thing as there are several parties involved and it is a listed building, which restricts what you can do to it.

“We would really need to have an offer in place by early December to have a realistic chance of meeting the deadline.

“We have done quite well so far, but I have to say I am doubtful we will get the rest of the money.”

Securing the Ser-geants’ Mess is seen as key to efforts to exploit the tourism potential of the chariot track, which is the only known Roman circus in Britain and the largest in northern Europe.

There are plans to mark out the shape of the ancient arena with an earth mound and possibly a line of wind turbines, but the starting gates site would provide a crucial focal point where visitors could look at illustrations of how the circus looked in its heyday.

Despite the potential benefits for the town, neither Colchester Council nor Essex County Council has offered to buy the building.

County Hall should make at least £1million from the sale of the archaeological trust’s base in Lexden Road, but heritage and culture spokesman Jeremy Lucas has said there are no plans to put any of the receipts towards the chariot project.