PLANS for a Roman chariot racing heritage centre have been boosted after Colchester Archaeological Trust secured a mortgage.

Trust bosses have been offered £200,000 by the Charity Bank, subject to conditions, to help buy the Army building which has the starting gates of the town’s Roman circus in its garden.

The cash doubles the amount secured so far in the bid to make the former sergeants’ mess a visitor attraction, housing displays about chariot racing and the circus’s discovery.

Individuals and businesses have already donated £200,000 in a public appeal – and the mortgage deal means £400,000 of the £740,000 purchase price has now been found.

It is expected most of the £340,000 still needed will come from two private investors who want to convert part of the Victorian property into flats.

The trust also hopes to get a relocation grant when it moves from its offices at a house in Lexden Road, which is owned by Essex County Council.

It plans to set up a base in rooms at the sergeants’ mess, upstairs from the proposed heritage centre, and to start making mortgage payments instead of the rent it pays currently.

Director Philip Crummy said: “We are really pleased. There are still lots of issues to be sorted out and it is a long process, but this is a big step forward.”

He added: “We would like to think, in about a month, we will be able to submit a planning application to Colchester Council.

“That will be the next big milestone. Our two investors are still keen and, if we can get planning permission, we will be in a stronger position.”

The campaign to raise the initial £200,000 needed for the heritage centre – backed by the Gazette – made national headlines and featured on BBC TV’s the One Show.

The ancient chariot-racing arena is the only one found in Britain.