A Wiltshire councillor has called for further investigation into the possibility of Roman remains with potentially ‘national significance’ laying under the soil at Southwick Court Fields.

Cllr David Vigar, who represents Grove Ward on both Trowbridge Town Council and Wiltshire Council, says no housing should be built on the fields until a thorough archaeological investigation has taken place.

He is objecting to plans by land promoters Waddeton Park Ltd of Clyst Honiton near Exeter, to build 180 new homes and an access road on the site, which is owned by wine dealer George Rhys, of Southwick Court Fine Wines.

They want to build the homes on the Southwick Court water meadows between Trowbridge and the Grade 11*-listed Southwick Court and Mr Rhys’ home at the Grade 11*-listed Southwick Court Gatehouse.

Wiltshire Times: The 30-acre site at Southwick Court Fields where 180 new homes and an access road could be built.The 30-acre site at Southwick Court Fields where 180 new homes and an access road could be built. (Image: Wiltshire Council)

The plans were refused by Wiltshire Council on several grounds, including the potential harm to archaeological and heritage assets.

A public inquiry into their appeal is being heard from October 3-7 at the Wiltshire Council offices in Trowbridge.

The site has been promoted through the Wiltshire Housing Site Allocations Plan but could be hiding a large Roman villa complex which has been described as having potential ‘national significance’.

The applicants argue the public benefits of their proposals outweigh the “less than substantial harm” to any archaeological remains that may be found.

But Cllr Vigar says: “It is not possible to rationally ‘weigh’ the harm against the public benefits of the proposal as required by the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Cllr Vigar argues that it is for Waddeton Park Ltd to demonstrate that ‘substantial harm’ will not be caused, triggering a need for ‘substantial public benefits’.

A spokesperson for Waddeton Park said they do not wish to comment.

The company engaged Cotswold Archaeology to investigate the site and its team dug 51 trenches to specifications drawn up by Wiltshire Council’s archaeology team.

Although they found evidence of Roman remains, including pottery, coins and a brooch, and these were of sufficient archaeological significance to comprise a ‘non-designated heritage asset’, Cotswold Archaeology said they were of a character well-represented in the region and not of a high archaeological value.

Wiltshire Times: Architect and antiquarian Martin Valatin believes there could be a Roman farm complex beneath the fields.Architect and antiquarian Martin Valatin believes there could be a Roman farm complex beneath the fields. (Image: Trevor Porter)

However, Cllr Vigar, former Trowbridge mayor Cllr Graham Hill, and Bradford on Avon architect and antiquarian Martin Valatin, believe there may be a Roman farming complex on the site.

Mr Valatin’s studies lead him to believe the site may be hiding the remains of a large Roman villa, along with a smaller 1st century villa, barns and other buildings that could include a bath house and a religious shrine.

Cllr Vigar will tell the public inquiry that other Roman remains have been found nearby, such as a figurine of the god Vulcan discovered near Axe and Cleaver Lane in 1988 and now on display in the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

Romano-British pottery, including stamped and decorated Samian ware, has also been uncovered in the Woodmarsh area to the east of the site, he said.

“I therefore believe that this application should not be approved without a more exhaustive evaluation, particularly of the south-eastern part of the site – and an assessment by a specialist in Romano-British society and architecture.”

He says it would be “interesting to explore” whether the site contains a farming complex and an unbroken chain of agricultural activity dating from the 1st century to the 21st century.

“Even if this possibility is an outside chance, it seems to be too important to ignore and I would therefore suggest that no development should ever be approved at this site – in appeal or future applications – until further investigations are carried out.”