Dorchester Archaeology Could Be Lost Under New Development

Charles St phase 2 view

Published at 8:07am 16th January 2015. (Updated at 11:41am 16th January 2015)

We're at risk of losing some of Dorchester's most important historical heritage - to make way for new underground parking and a shopping centre, according to local campaigners.

The "Defend Our Rich Cultural Heritage Group" are expressing their serious concerns over what they claim are West Dorset District Council's plans to go ahead with the next phase of the Charles Street development, without a proper archaeological investigation.

The developers, Simons, commissioned consultants Cotswold Archaeology to provide a 'Cultural Heritage Assessment' which rated the site as being only of 'medium' importance.

The group says that's despite the fact that it is bounded on one side by the remains of Dorchester's Roman bath-house, and on another by a unique and internationally important Neolithic (5000 BC) henge monument.

D.O.R.C.H. claims the report contained many factual errors and omissions, and its 'fitness for purpose' has been questioned by former County Archaeologist, and ex-President of the British Archaeological Association, Laurence Keen OBE.

They say by their own admission the consultants' assessment was 'refined in order to reduce expenditure and maintain the economic viability of the development scheme'.

Dorchester Town Councillor David Taylor says this is unacceptable.

He told Wessex FM: "I am just devastated the fact that we have a rich tapestry of history and heritage here that's being overlooked."

"I do a lot of work with Dorset County Museum and we are absolutely incensed that they're taking away our chance to find out what the Romans left behind when they were leaving the country."

Commenting on the current 'Detailed Archaeological Design' for archaeological work submitted by Simons, an English Heritage spokesman said:

'We reluctantly agreed to the town centre redevelopment on the basis that the archaeology would be fully excavated and recorded prior to being destroyed to make way for new, underground, car parking. We understand that the developer considers a full excavation to be too expensive, and wants to revise the scheme to limit archaeological investigation and recording. There is only one opportunity to record the extremely rich archaeological heritage of this town centre site. If the developer is unable to commit to full excavation, we suggest their car parking proposals are revised to omit the underground element, preserving the archaeology in situ beneath the surface of the scheme.'

Graeme Cosgrove, Group Director of Development for Simons said: "We understand the sensitivities of the Archaeological issues surrounding the Charles Street Development and are in continued and ongoing dialogue with  WDDC and other stakeholders as part of our planning application to reach a mutually acceptable way forward."


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