Amphitheatre Panorama4

Council parts ways with Thwaites on Dee House restoration

Cheshire West & Chester Council and Thwaites have mutually agreed to end their deal to redevelop the grade two-listed Dee House, next to the city’s amphitheatre, which was set to be converted into a hotel.

The council and Thwaites struck a conditional development agreement for the site back in September 2016 and had been exploring its conversion, but the two parties have now agreed to part ways on the scheme.

Thwaites chief executive Rick Bailey said issues including safe access to the building and difficulties in making the scheme financially viable had scuppered the deal.

“We are very disappointed that we can’t proceed with this development, as Dee House is a fantastic location with great potential.

“We have worked very hard, alongside the Council, to find a way of bringing our plans to life. However even just securing safe access to the building has proved to be far more expensive and challenging than anyone ever anticipated.

“We have looked into every option available but unfortunately we have been unable to find a workable solution that is financially viable.

“After an enormous amount of consideration and discussion, we have made the difficult decision not to proceed at this time. We have spoken at length with the Council and believe allowing them to take back the lead in the project is now the best way forward.

He added the company was “definitely not closing the door completely” on the scheme but said “there are too many unknowns for us to be able to take it forward”.

Despite agreeing with Thwaites to end the deal, the council said it “remained committed to finding a long-term solution to the site”. The land on which Dee House sits covers the unexcavated part of Chester’s amphitheatre, and is owned by the council.

Cllr Louise Gittins, cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, said: “Finding a solution for Dee House was never going to be easy.  We are disappointed that our plans to implement a private-sector led scheme have not been able to progress. However, through the extensive work undertaken by Thwaites, we have accumulated significant knowledge which will be invaluable in informing future decisions about the site.

“We believe it is now important to take stock of this new intelligence within the context of the wider city and the findings of the Roman Amphitheatre Chester Report Volume 1 published late last year.

“It is our intention to work in partnership with Chester Growth Partnership who will establish a dedicated stakeholder group of interested parties given the importance of the Dee House site.

“We look forward to working with Chester Growth Partnership and as the review progresses we will share the findings with the wider community and will consult on the future options which emerge.”

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Although extremely disappointed I take a little comfort from Thwaite’s comment ‘….not closing the door completely..’. and would urge the Council not to consider demolition at any stage. There is little to be gained by exposing the remaining section of the Amphitheatre and it is best left preserved underground for future generations. Archaeological knowledge & expertise improves with each generation and it could prejudice the findings if excavated now. Whenever one reads about excavations there are often comments about earlier investigations creating either confusion or even damage to the subject building. There are ample examples of Roman history of Chester so we need to show that it became, and continues to be, a vibrant and expanding city. This is best achieved by preserving / developing its history beyond the Roman occupation.

By eam freeman

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