Historic England row as Army barracks could destroy UK’s last Roman chariot track

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The governmental body is poised to protect the Roman Circus located in Colchester, Essex. However, the ancient monument shares a site with the Royal Artillery Barracks, and a planning application has been submitted for a monument and two plaques.

The monument and plaques would recognise the barracks – later renamed “Le Cateau Barracks” – as one of the earliest in the Colchester Garrison.

Historic England objected to the application claiming that it would harm the ancient monument.

In its objection, it stated: “In our view, the proposed erection of a commemorative monument would have a negative impact upon the setting of the scheduled monument and would result in less than substantial harm to the significance of the monument.”

A later section said: “We are not convinced that the proposed development would deliver public benefit that is sufficient to outweigh the harm that we have identified to the scheduled monument, and we therefore object to this planning application.”

The applicant, Sergeants Mess Ltd, said in response that it was “surprised” by Historic England’s objection, claiming that they provided no evidence or rationale.

Moreover, they said that commemorating the historic Royal Artillery Barracks would celebrate “a very important part of Colchester’s military history”.

Sergeant Mess stated: “It is with some surprise that Historic England has submitted an objection to the siting of the new commemorative monument at Sergeants Mess and we would look to respond to that objection in this short briefing note.”

The applicant added: “We would submit that there is no demonstrable harm caused by these proposals to the significance of the Roman Circus Ancient Monument and request the planning authority to approve both the construction of the Le Cateau Artillery Barracks Monument and the two Commemorative Blue Plaques.”

The Roman Circus located on the site is characterised as a “unique” archaeological monument in Britain, since it is the only place in the country where there is excavated and convincing evidence of a circus.

According to Historic England, it is one of only six locations in the north west provinces of the Roman empire where circuses have been securely identified.

The Colchester circus is orientated east to west and measures 448.2 meters in length and between 71.1 and 74.2 meters in width, and it had a seating capacity of around 8,000 – 15,000.

The sheer scale of the building was so great that it is believed that the emperor must have paid for its construction, according to Historic England.

Ultimately, Historic England suggested that a new location for the Royal Artillery Barracks monument is found, away from the circus.

The two blue plaques that Sergeant Mess intends to install, would be for Major Raymond England and the Officers’ Quarters.

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