CHESTER city centre’s third tallest building, Commerce House, is to be demolished as part of site preparations for the new theatre.
Built in the 60s, the eight-floor Commerce House stands in Chester’s central conservation area and thus requires demolition consent from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) has asked DCLG to consider its application to demolish the ‘eyesore structure’ – built as office accommodation for the former Cheshire County Council – as quickly as possible.
Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and recreation, said: “Bearing in mind the central position of Commerce House and its proximity to other buildings, demolition will be carried out with the greatest care, probably taking down the building floor-by-floor.”
In the meantime, CWaC is waiting to hear from the Arts Council on the opening time for applications for its second stage of capital funding, which is expected in the near future.
An archaeological desk-based assessment report on the theatre site was commissioned by the council’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 and its footprint overlies an area which included barrack blocks and accommodation which could have been part of the Governor’s enclave.
The report added: “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 concludes 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 in the near future between Mike Morris, leader of the council’s historic environment team, and recently appointed design concept architects Bennetts Associates and project manager Buro Four.
Cllr Parker added: “The talks will decide when our archaeologists will be able to move on to 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.”