Dee House is back in the news this week, but for once it’s for good reasons.
Dee House is the dilapidated building standing empty at the back of the amphitheatre. In the past it has been used as a residential mansion, a school and a convent. Some years back it was badly damaged by fire.
You will undoubtedly remember a recent campaign to knock Dee House down and dig up the rest of the amphitheatre, led by local businessman and campaigner Adam Dandy.
To be honest, I always hated the look of Dee House and would be quite happy to see it gone. But through my involvement with a group led by Andy Forster, I have had my mind changed.
It is worth remembering some key facts:
- We are not allowed to knock it down. Dee House is protected by legal preservation orders of Historic England, the government agency responsible. And it clearly has much historic merit. Even if we did knock it down, then it would only expose the back of the family court building.
- In order to renovate it, a full survey of the structure is required. But after the fire and years of neglect, the building is not safe for the survey, and work to make it safe just to do the survey will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
- This is why commercial partners can’t afford to invest in the renovation – they don’t know how much it could cost.
- And Cheshire West and Chester Council can’t afford a full renovation either, especially after a decade of savage budget cuts from central government.
- And finally, there is nothing much remaining of the amphitheatre after its stone has been taken for other construction projects over the centuries – like a tower at St Johns Church in the Middle Ages, which subsequently fell down a couple of centuries ago.
Amidst all these problems, up stepped Andy Foster. Andy runs Raise Architects in the city. He agreed to lead a voluntary team, including those who have argued for and against preservation of Dee House, on behalf of the council to find an agreed way forward.
Andy’s team have been brilliant, they’ve examined every nook and cranny of the problem and have convinced many – myself included – that we must be ambitious and determined. Andy’s meetings have focused on what steps we need to take to solve this problem bit by bit, with the legal and financial constraints we face. One proposal is for a visitor and heritage centre which would fit perfectly with the historic surroundings. This would involve the council finding the initial money to secure the site, and then look for opportunities to partner with other organisations to complete the job.
I hope everyone will get behind the group’s ambition to view this whole site as a portal to our city’s past and future – an exciting centre of congregation, recreation and education for over 2000 years.