As Chester’s MP, one of my main aims has been to give local people a platform to be heard, and to ensure they are listened to. So as this summer’s debate about plans to renovate Dee House and the amphitheatre raged online, I went about organising a proper old-fashioned debate to ensure all views were heard.
Around 300 people came to the debate, which I held jointly with local social media commentator Antonio Chester. As I pointed out on the night, this was not a new debate – it’s been going on for 20 years
I was impressed by the passion people felt for our heritage, and for the knowledge people have of our city and its wonderful history.
It was a shame that the Dig Up Deva campaign chose not to attend. Nevertheless, there were plenty of voices in the room to air the view that we should dig up the remaining half of the amphitheatre, with leading businessman Gordon Vickers, of the Mill Hotel, making the case from the stage.
I have never liked Dee House, but others who know more about these things than I, assure us that it is an important historical building in its own right. And although the amphitheatre may be an important piece of our history and our city’s offer to tourists, the experts in the room were keen to stress the point that our city walls are now mostly medieval and we have a rich Civil War heritage that needs pushing too. We are fortunate to have a layering of history that shaped Chester across the ages and this is the story that they want to tell.
That’s also why the government, and its agency Historic England, will not agree to the demolition of Dee House, nor to the digging up of the amphitheatre. The council owns Dee House, the government effectively owns the amphitheatre so where do we go from here?
One thing I am clear about is that the status quo is no longer an option. We cannot allow another two decades of neglect in this area.
The advantage we do have is cross-party unity, the same bi-partisan approach that saw the theatre being built and the Northgate Development driven forward. The current proposals for Dee House were developed by the previous Conservative administration under its One City Plan, and are now being continued by the current Labour leadership. Any attempt to break this cross party consensus will be a betrayal of Chester and will condemn the area to more years of indecision and neglect. Short term political advantage is no excuse – you can’t play politics with Chester’s past and Chester future.