IN a move that will surprise no one, the council has announced that grand plans to convert a dilapidated former Chester convent into a hotel have fallen through.

The Grade II listed Dee House was handed to hotel and restaurant company Daniel Thwaites PLC in September 2016 on a ‘conditional development agreement’.

But virtually nothing appears to have been done on the site in the past two years – despite assurances on several occasions that work was going on behind the scenes.

And yesterday Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) and Thwaites released a joint statement to say the plans had been shelved as the project was proving far too costly.

Thwaites chief executive officer Rick Bailey said: “We are very disappointed that we can't proceed with this development, as Dee House is a fantastic location with great potential.

"We have worked very hard, alongside the Council, to find a way of bringing our plans to life. However even just securing safe access to the building has proved to be far more expensive and challenging than anyone ever anticipated.

"We have looked into every option available but unfortunately we have been unable to find a workable solution that is financially viable.

"After an enormous amount of consideration and discussion, we have made the difficult decision not to proceed at this time. We have spoken at length with the Council and believe allowing them to take back the lead in the project is now the best way forward.

"We are definitely not closing the door completely but for the moment there are too many unknowns for us to be able to take it forward."

The fate of the Georgian building was the subject of heated debate over the summer of 2016 after a petition calling for its demolition attracted thousands of signatures.

The building was constructed over part of the amphitheatre and many suggested it would be more beneficial to the city’s tourism and culture to knock it down and uncover the whole Roman site.

At the time the council refused to open up public consultation saying what the petition was asking for was “impossible” because it is illegal to demolish a listed building.

CWaC have maintained they are committed to finding a long-term solution to the site and have linked up with the Cheshire Growth Partnership group to look at their options.

Cllr Louise Gittins, Cabinet Member for Communities and Wellbeing, said: “Finding a solution for Dee House was never going to be easy. We are disappointed that our plans to implement a private-sector led scheme have not been able to progress. However, through the extensive work undertaken by Thwaites, we have accumulated significant knowledge which will be invaluable in informing future decisions about the site.

“We believe it is now important to take stock of this new intelligence within the context of the wider city and the findings of the Roman Amphitheatre Chester Report Volume 1 published late last year.

“It is our intention to work in partnership with Chester Growth Partnership who will establish a dedicated stakeholder group of interested parties given the importance of the Dee House site.

“We look forward to working with Chester Growth Partnership and as the review progresses we will share the findings with the wider community and will consult on the future options which emerge.”

Built in 1730 for former mayor John Comberbach, the building has been empty since the early 1990s and left to ruin.

Peter Carstensen, chair of Chester Growth Partnership, added: “Dee House is a key project within the One City Plan and we are delighted to have the opportunity to bring together stakeholders to review options and help find a way forward.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with the Council in looking at future options for the site and are keen to maintain momentum on the project. Our group will bring together significant key stakeholder knowledge and expertise. We will be inviting both Civic Trust and Chester Archaeological Society to participate.”

The council has issued answers to the following 'frequently asked questions':

Who owns Chester’s Amphitheatre?

The Amphitheatre is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The excavated area of the Amphitheatre is owned by the Government. The unexcavated area of the Amphitheatre upon which Dee House is located is owned by Cheshire West and Chester Council.

What is the role of English Heritage in relation to the amphitheatre?

English Heritage acts as guardians for the part of the Amphitheatre in Government ownership, the excavated northern part of the site. They have no responsibility for the unexcavated part.

The excavated area of the amphitheatre is managed by Cheshire West and Chester Council by agreement with English Heritage.

What is the role of Historic England in relation to the amphitheatre?

Historic England is the Government’s expert advisor on the nation's heritage with a statutory role in the planning system. It provides advice and guidance on any development proposals that might impact upon England’s historic environment.

As a Scheduled Ancient Monument any works to the Chester Amphitheatre require scheduled monument consent from the Secretary of State (not the local planning authority). Historic England manages the process of scheduled monument consent on behalf of the secretary of state.

Why can’t you excavate the remaining amphitheatre?

Historic England state that – excavations of the buried remains of the Roman amphitheatre in Chester carried out between 2004 and 2006 showed that only fragments of the amphitheatre survive as most of the stonework had previously been removed for re-use elsewhere.

These excavations increased our understanding of the design and development of the amphitheatre and it is unlikely that further excavation will increase that understanding. The view of most experts is that it is also highly unlikely that further excavation will expose anything which can be displayed without a very high level of reconstruction. Most of the walls on display today are 20th century reconstructions of what was once there.

Who owns Dee House and why is it significant?

Dee House is owned by Cheshire West and Chester Council, it is a Grade II listed building. Dee House was built around 1730 for James Comberbach, a former Mayor of Chester, who died in 1737. In 1854 the house was acquired by an order of Roman Catholic nuns, who in 1867 commissioned a Liverpool architect, Edmund Kirby, to extend the building with a new classroom and chapel to the east of the original house, designed in a Gothic style.

A late 19th century extension to the west matches the design of the original house. Although the original house was refitted in the early 19th century much 18th century fabric survives, including the main entrance hall and staircase, doorcases and plaster ceilings.

The Victorian extensions are of interest both as the work of an architect of considerable importance, and in demonstrating the revival of Roman Catholicism in the region during the second half of the 19th century. The national importance of the complex is reflected in its listing in Grade II.