Colchester Council could become guardians of a prized historic site.

The council's planning committee approved an application for the Victorian sergeants' mess in Le Cateau Road, Colchester, to be converted into 11 town houses and four flats.

As part of the agreement, the sergeants' mess gardens, which are the site of the starting gates for the Roman circus, will stay privately owned but the public will be allowed access between 10am and 5pm.

An agreement was reached for the council to lease the site for 134 years.

However, Theresa Higgins, Colchester Council's portfolio holder for culture, tourism and diversity, said discussions may now be held as to whether the council could become guardians of the site which is an ancient scheduled monument.

The deal for year round access followed the early suggestions the public would only be allowed access to the site four times a year.

Mrs Higgins, who has lead discussions with developers Taylor Wimpey, said: "I am happy with the decision and what has been achieved but I would like to see if we can move on from here and become guardians of the site."

Colchester historians have called for the site of the starting gates of the only chariot racetrack found in Britain to go into public ownership.

At the meeting, Jess Jephcott told councillors: "What I and many Colcestrians want is for this piece of land to be given into public ownership in return for the grant of planning and building works which are wanted.

"We don't want any strings attached. We don't want to pay forthe priviledge of getting access to this scheduled ancient monument."

Mr Jephcott sited Gosbecks Archaeological Park which was given to the town by the landowner in return for housing on the site.

He added: "One day, Colchester will wake up to the golden egg sits on. Money will be found to do further archaeological excavations and to build education stations to explain our unique heritage to Colcestrians and our visitors.

"One day Colchester will fully wake up to the importance and wealth creation which tourism can bring to our town."

Robert Taylor, project manager for the site, said: “The listed building is a prominent and excellent building whose grounds have to be safeguarded in future as much as the starting gates.”

The cost of leasing and maintaining the gardens to Colchester Council will be in the region of £6,600 a year.

Part of the expense will come from locking and unlocking the gates each day.

However, Mrs Higgins said the council could explore the possibility of electronically locking the gates which could reduce the costs.

She said: "It is something we will investigate further."