DORCHESTER’S ‘hidden’ Roman Town House is to be made more accessible.

The details for the revamp include a new entrance, seating, lighting, disabled parking, new timber steps and paths and other landscaping works.

The villa, one of a kind in the country, is to the rear of County Hall.

Visitors said in a survey that they had trouble finding it – and when they did had difficulty in accessing the site. Local people say they would like to see the historic site put to better use for outdoor events.

A detailed planning consent, just submitted, includes re-opening a former entrance along the town’s historic West Walks, once the Roman defences of Dorchester.

Much of the work is expected to be funded by a Heritage Lottery grant. There will also be better signing – another of the criticisms made by visitors.

A report for the planning permission notes: “Due to its location behind County Hall and the rather convoluted and poorly sign-posted route to discover it, it often sent visitors through the County Hall car park, which many people feel significantly impacts on the enjoyment of the site.”

Papers submitted with the planning application say the overall aim of the changes is to “enhance the overall setting of the Roman Town House, to improve access and circulation, to make the maintenance of the site more sustainable, to improve interpretation of the site and enhance its context in the historic town of Dorchester.”

One of the changes will be the creation of a landscaped space which is adaptable for mixed uses such as educational events, performance and exhibitions, or for art of installations.

Part of the proposed works also includes the demolition of existing storage buildings which mask the main entrance to the site, and creating a new disabled-friendly access ramp, extra seating and a better interpretation area overlooking the site.

The site will be improved with stone markers and hard surfacing which will also form a multi-functional public space for events. The existing pathways around the Town House will be refurbished and a small section of the pathway will be extended in the south west corner of the Town House west range, to allow a safe route past the low hanging roof eaves.

Some trees on the site will also be cleared which will open the views into the site and help reinstate the original context of the Town House inside the corner of the Roman town’s walls. Planners say the removal of the trees will also help address issues caused with damp and help deter the occasional antisocial behaviour related to the west part of the site by opening the whole area. The newly open west slope will be seeded with a low maintenance grass mix.

Disabled car parking spaces and drop off points will be available immediately west of the Town House in remarked spaces.

The well-preserved Roman Town House with its mosaic floors was discovered in the 1930s when work started on the construction of County Hall, with plans for the office building then changed to allow it to remain on display.

The complex, which developed during the third and fourth centuries AD consisted of two stone ranges and a series of wooden buildings.  Each range of buildings contained a hypocaust, a form of underfloor warm air heating, while the western range also had floor mosaics of varying quality that illustrate the different functions of each of the rooms.

The earliest part of the building was expanded and decorated with fine mosaics around AD350 and is thought to have been the home of a local Romano-British family, possibly an industrialist or businessman, whose ancestors had adopted the Roman way of life some 300 years earlier.

In the 1990s the County Council decided to improve the site and its accessibility with a programme of works partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The most visible element of this was the redisplay of the mosaics and other features of the western range within a large cover building. Further work took place in the later 2000s, again supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Public comments on the proposals will remain open until July 23.