THE latest plans have been waved through in what will be a triple boost for visitors at a top Roman heritage site.
Planning permission has been given to the National Trust for the revamp and expansion of the visitor centre at Housesteads Roman Fort in Northumberland.
The plans, approved by Northumberland National Park Authority, will see a new cafe, shop and welcome area for visitors.
This is part of a £1m package which will see a redesign and upgrade for the museum at Housesteads by English Heritage.
There are also plans by the national park to increase the number of parking places at the site by 40, following an archaeological trial dig.
Housesteads, which housed a garrison of up to 1,000 troops, is rated as the most complete example of a Roman fort on display in Britain, and its is felt that visitor facilities should reflect this. The revamped museum, which will include a new audio-visual exhibition exploring life on the Roman frontier, will open in April, with work at the visitor centre due to start towards the end of the year, to minimise disruption for visitors.
Andrew Poad, property manager for the National Trust’s Hadrian’s Wall properties, said: “We’re delighted to have received planning permission for the visitor centre at Housesteads and look forward to creating an improved welcome and experience for visitors.”
The scheme for the visitor centre includes raising the roof to provide more space with the addition of a mezzanine floor.
The existing visitor centre was built in the early 1980s for seasonal operation and has struggled with its now year-round operation, introduced in 2000.
The existing toilet facilities are externally accessed from the car park as they were intended to be available when the visitor centre was closed.
This is no longer the case, partly due to problems with anti-social behaviour, and they are in need of upgrading.
Catering facilities currently consist of an external kiosk and a self-service counter inside in the form of a hot drinks machine and a refrigerator offering sandwiches and snacks. At present the limited space in the centre restricts comfortable circulation through the building, especially for wheelchair users. It is hoped that investment by the National Trust in upgrading the visitor centre will increase visitor numbers and revenue for the local economy.
It is also proposed to install solar panels on the roof to provide hot water and top up a new underfloor heating system, provided predominantly by air source heat pumps.
The existing cobbled courtyard is uneven and difficult to negotiate for people with visual or physical impairments so it is proposed to lay stone flags within the courtyard area.
The path up to the fort from the visitor centre and the farm track which provides vehicular access to the fort site for disabled visitors is to be repaired.
Consideration is also being given to strengthening the route of the public right of way to the fort for visitors who don’t wish to use the visitor centre or who visit the site when the building is closed.