HL Deb 21 March 1988 vol 495 cc5-6

2.46 p.m.

Lord Blyth asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they intend to take to preserve and ensure public access to the recently discovered remains of the Roman Londinium Amphitheatre.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I share the noble Lord's interest in the recent discovery. We understand that the City Corporation, together with English Heritage and the Museum of London, are considering options and we are monitoring the situation.

Lord Blyth

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his reply. Can he expand on it a little and assure the House that the Government will monitor the proceedings and encourage the City Fathers as much as possible to open the site to the public?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that this is a recent discovery. Applications for planning permission, listed building consent and conservation area consent for the extension of the Guildhall and the demolition of one unlisted building are currently before my right honourable friend. I cannot at this stage comment on the merits of the case. However, English Heritage has advised that applications should be considered at a public inquiry and we are considering that recommendation.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in response to strong representations from the Royal Fine Art Commission the City of London has promised to take the necessary measures to preserve these important remains temporarily? However, is not the present problem that of permanently preserving this unique piece of architecture for future generations?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am well aware of the point raised by my noble friend. However, I should like to remind him that had it not been for the fact that the Guildhall Library was partially demolished by a German bomb this reconstruction would not have been anticipated and the matter brought to light.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, following on what has already been said, I believe that an early agreement must be reached between the City of London and archaeologists that the remains, which are acknowledged by all sides to be of immense importance, will be preserved. Will the Government ensure that there is wide and open discussion to forestall the building over of the three sites involved, even though recording may have taken place? There is a difference between obtaining the records and having the sites preserved so that people can see them in an interpretative centre.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, it is still early days. I draw the attention of the noble Baroness to my earlier remarks about the recommendation made by English Heritage, which we are now considering.

Lord Marley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are already two important Roman sites, which are at Billingsgate and on the embankment near Blackfriars and which have been closed in? I believe it to be essential that that does not happen to the amphitheatre.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, so far no irrevocable decisions have been taken.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord who has just spoken. I am not speaking from the Cross-Benches. Is the Minister aware that there have been several examples—and if the noble Lord wants to know the examples I can send him the information—of at least three sites which have been closed in by the City of London Fathers? Therefore, at this stage it is essential that we should ensure that that does not happen in this ease.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that the City is well aware of the public interest in this issue and its potential. I should remind noble Lords that only part of the amphitheatre has been uncovered and that the whole could not be preserved without the destruction of other important buildings in the City.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the very successful Jorvik Viking Centre in York was set up four years ago with a loan of £2½million, and that that loan has almost been paid off as nearly 900,000 visitors visit the centre each year? Therefore, will the Government lend support to the leading archaeologists who are pressing for the Roman amphitheatre discovered underneath the London Guildhall to be preserved in a national heritage centre on the scale of the Jorvik Centre in York? Perhaps discussions between the two cities would be of use.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am well aware of the Jorvik Centre and am extremely pleased that the noble Baroness pointed out that there are 900,000 visitors each year. My brief gave a figure of 800,000, which is most encouraging. The Jorvik Centre is a great example where public and private investment have resulted in a very satisfactory conclusion. I am sure that the City is well aware of the success of the Jorvik Centre and will keep it in mind when considering the future of the Londinium amphitheatre.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that beneath St. Peter's in Rome and beneath York Minster\ancient history has been preserved and can still be viewed through not having allowed modern buildings to be erected immediately above?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am.