Questions remain about future of Binchester Roman fort site

Church commissioners must raise as much money as possible from sale of historic site, MP is told

New excavations at Binchester Fort near Bishop Auckland.

An MP is to seek talks with Church Commissioners in a bid to ensure an internationally-important Roman fort in the North East is protected for future generations.

Binchester Roman Fort near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has been dubbed the Pompeii of the North after archeologists unearthed artefacts dating back 1,800 years.

But there are fears for its future because the Church Commissioners, who own the land, have put it up for sale as separate lots.

Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, raised a series of questions about the sale in the House of Commons.

These included asking why the site was being sold in two lots - as part of a wider sale of ten lots of land - a decision which campaigners warn could make it harder to preserve the fort and ensure there is public access to it.

But in a written Parliamentary answer, Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, did not directly address the question.

However, he appeared to suggest the lots had been divided in order to make it easier to sell a working farm which is on the fort site.

New excavations at Binchester Fort near Bishop Auckland. Pictured volunteer Michelle Arthy
New excavations at Binchester Fort near Bishop Auckland. Pictured volunteer Michelle Arthy
 

He said: “The estate is being offered as a whole or in 10 separate lots.

“Lot 5 is a working farm and part of the farm includes largely unexcavated parts of the Binchester Roman Fort. The excavated part of the Fort, and the other unexcavated area, form part of Lot 6.

“The lotting takes account of a number of factors including practical boundaries and issues on the ground. For instance, if all of the unexcavated areas had been included in Lot 6, Binchester Hall Farmhouse and yard would be severed from the rest of the farm holding.”

Responding to other questions, he also warned that the Church Commissioners had to get the best price possible for the land.

He said: “As a registered charity the Church Commissioners are under a legal duty to demonstrate that they have maximised the proceeds of sale of their assets to fund the wider mission and ministry of the Church of England, particularly in areas of need.”

And he said any future owners would have an obligation to allow public access to the site.

Dr. David Mason, with the head off a Roman Statue at Binchester Roman Fort, near Bishop Auckland
Dr. David Mason, with the head off a Roman Statue at Binchester Roman Fort, near Bishop Auckland
 

“To offer best protection, public access to the excavated parts of the Fort is managed and controlled in accordance with a Deed of Guardianship with Durham County Council ... the property will be sold subject to this Deed of Guardianship.”

A spokeswoman for Mrs Goodman said: “The sites are obviously very important in her constituency, so she is seeking a meeting with the Church Commissioners to discuss matters further.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer