Chester prepares for ‘significant’ Roman dig
The eight-storey office building Commerce House will be demolished and foundations studied by archaeologists before making way for the city's new theatre, if special consent is granted by Department for Communities & Local Government.
Cheshire West & Chester Council has applied to Government for permission to demolish the block as part of site preparations for the new theatre. As Commerce House is within a conservation area it requires ministerial consent for demolition.
An archaeological desk-based assessment of the theatre site was commissioned by CWAC's historic environment service earlier this year. It concluded the 'foundations of Folliott House and Commerce House undoubtedly damaged archaeological remains in these areas but significant remains probably survive beneath and around both of them.'
The theatre site lies in the Northern part of the Roman fortress area and its footprint overlies a site which included barrack blocks and accommodation which could have been part of the governor's enclave.
The assessment report continued: "The concentration of buildings in this area highlights the complexity of the potential archaeological remains.
"There is a high potential of encountering Roman remains which would be of national significance."
It concluded: "There would be low potential for the discovery of Saxon remains – any such discovery would be of national significance – and moderate potential for the medieval remains of regional significance."
Talks on the archaeological aspects of the site will take place soon between Mike Morris, leader of the council's historic environment team, and recently appointed architects Bennetts Associates and project manager Buro Four.
Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and recreation, said: "The talks will decide when our archaeologists will be able to move onto the site and begin initial works with some trial trenches – probably in the basement of Commerce House.
"There is a degree of uncertainty about what they might eventually find but if there are remains of national significance then the theatre's design will enable them to be protected for future generations.
"One thing is however certain and that is that everything will be done to ensure that the archaeology and building work progress side by side with the minimum of disruption possible."