More than 18,000 people will be disappointed after the council ignored calls to fully excavate Chester amphitheatre but will instead press on with plans to redevelop Dee House which sits on part of the site.
Adam Dandy, who started the Dig Up Deva campaign, presented an 18,809-name petition to Cheshire West and Chester Council ’s Places Overview and Scrutiny Committee where Conservative members unsuccessfully challenged the Labour cabinet’s July decision to revamp Dee House.
For reasons of commercial confidentiality, the council has not yet revealed details of its plans for Dee House although The Chronicle understands the vision is to agree a 150-year lease with a developer who would convert the grade II-listed Georgian building into a boutique hotel incorporating a visitor centre.
Tory councillors called-in the decision for a review arguing the consultation process had been inadequate with a failure to consider all implications for the wider economy. However, the decision won’t be revisited after Tory members of the committee were out-voted.
Campaigner Mr Dandy told the meeting during public speaking time: “I have been given just over 150 seconds to present to you, our petition, signed by 18,809 people, 65 local businesses and thousands of comments, in just one month, one of the largest, if not the largest petition ever submitted to this local authority.
“All asking those on this committee, here tonight, to recommend a proper period of public consultation on the council’s plans for Dee House and the land on top of Chester amphitheatre.
“If you choose to ignore these 18,809 people in the next 150 minutes or so, what message does that send to your constituents here tonight and watching at home? You will set the ball rolling on a course unknown, which cannot be stopped. Hotel one day, student flats the next.”
The businessman, who owns Dandy's Topsoil, said handing over Dee House to a developer would seal the fate of the amphitheatre with the effect of 'destroying thousands and thousands of people's desires to see it uncovered'.
But Dean Paton, of Big Heritage, who claims Dee House was built by the ancestors of the BBC Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch , put a counter argument. He said Dee House should not be dismissed as it was an important part of Chester’s history. Demolishing Dee House would be illegal as it was opposed by heritage body Historic England and this meant no funding to excavate the amphitheatre would be forthcoming.
“The excavation cost alone would be millions,” he said.
Conservative committee member Jill Houlbrook , the lead call-in councillor, said: “This evening I speak for over 18,000 people who signed a petition set up by Dig up Deva and for those who have not signed but feel quite disenfranchised by the lack of public consultation over the development of Dee House.”
Stressing the national and local significance of the amphitheatre site, she continued: “I also speak for myself as I feel passionately that any proposal to develop Dee House and the land on which it stands are intrinsic to the preservation of Chester ’s varied and vibrant past. There should be a consultation specific to the area, which would allow residents, businesses, visitors and many other stakeholders to not only air their views but also give an opportunity for innovative plans to be discussed and shared.”
Cllr Louise Gittins , cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, said the redevelopment of Dee House had been included in the One City Plan which had been subject to consultation. Once the precise proposals were unveiled there would be a pre-planning consultation, prior to an application being lodged, with public drop-in sessions involving the developer. The Cheshire West and Chester Design Review Panel would be consulted. And there would be a statutory public consultation once the application was submitted.
Cllr Gittins said there was ‘no concensus’ in the community over what should happen at the site. It was therefore a matter for elected leaders to decide the best way forward.
“Part of being elected into a role is about making difficult decisions,” she said.