SILVER Hill campaigners have been dealt a blow over their hopes to exploit the archaeology of the city centre site.

City councillors Kim Gottlieb and Rose Burns want a full-scale dig to explore what is under the surface of the site.

Civic chiefs are drawing up a new planning brief following the collapse of the TH Real Estate scheme earlier this year.

Potentially Cllrs Gottlieb and Burns want to highlight the archaeology and develop it as a tourist attraction as in places such as York.

But Prof Martin Biddle, one of the most eminent archaeologists in the UK, does not support the idea, branding it "pie in the sky".

Prof Biddle,who spent years running archaeological digs in the city from the 1950s to 70s, said: “The archaeology on this site is very important. New development must be designed sensitively to have minimum impact. This is perfectly achievable as it has been done previously in Canterbury and other historic towns and cities.”

He told the Central Winchester Regeneration group that full-scale archaeological digs like the ones he had overseen were not needed and were impractical.

Later he explained why to the Chronicle: "It would be impossible to fund. Our dig in Lower Brook Street lasted ten years for ten weeks a year. It cost nothing because it was all done by volunteers. Today if it was done by professionals it would cost millions.

"This is an important area of a modern commercial city. You cannot mothball that for years at a time. It is just not practical and not necessary. It is pie in the sky.

"Kim Gottlieb has argued, on the basis of ignorance, that it is possible to expose and have an open air and underground museum. We don't know what is there. The only way of finding out is to dig. But you cannot dig because it is too expensive. These people are talking a great deal of pie in the sky."

Prof Biddle said that at Silver Hill only the areas that were going to be destroyed such as for the piles, foundations and service lines needed to be examined.

He said it was "plain nonsense" to think the Roman Forum may be under Silver Hill. "And there is no reason to suppose the Roman baths are there. We don't know and there is no way of finding out."

Cllr Gottlieb told the Chronicle: "I always thought there is potential to create a heritage centre. We still don't know what is down there."

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