COLCHESTER’S Roman circus heritage centre appeal has suffered a setback – the withdrawal of a key investor lined up to help fund the work.

Colchester Archaeological Trust is now seeking a new partner with £270,000 to invest in part of the building beneath whose gardens the Roman chariot racing track’s starting gates are buried.

The original investor, whose identity has not been disclosed, agreed to redevelop part of the old sergeants’ mess building as a smart townhouse.

Despite the setback, the trust remains upbeat – so much so it has submitted a planning application for the heritage centre to Colchester Council.

Trust director Philip Crummy said: “The actual building acquisition cost is only one part of the project.

“We needed to be sure we fully understood what was involved in bringing the building back into a safe and weatherproof state. With the invaluable support of Graeme Roe, of Stanley Bragg Architects, we have now brought this stage of the project to a conclusion.

“There are one or two outstanding pieces of the jigsaw to complete, such as finally figuring out how to reconnect the building’s services.

“But we now feel comfortable in progressing to the formal planning consent stage.”

The trust is aiming to cover about half the £740,000 purchase price of the building by taking out a mortgage to add to an Essex County Council grant and £200,000 raised by the public, with the backing of the Gazette’s Save Our Roman Circus campaign.

The visitor centre would occupy half the ground floor of the listed sergeants’ mess building, with offices for the archaeological trust above it.

The other half of the building would be converted into four flats and a house and sold off.

Two investors were to fund this part of the development, and it is one of these who has dropped out. A fresh partner is now beomg sought to take on about a quarter of the building, and convert it into a four-bedroom townhouse.

Peter Herring, who is acting as project manager for the trust, said: “We have come a long way and naturally, it’s a disappointment to lose part of the backing at this crucial stage of the project.

“However, no project is without its bumps in the road, and we must look forward and now turn our attention to obtaining another investor.

“Philip Crummy is discussing ways of marketing the building with local estate agents and we hope local publicity will help us to find a ‘white knight’ investor.”

The £270,000 the trust is seeking would cover the purchase price and a contribution towards the cost of weatherproofing the building.