Tessa noticed patches of black tarmac appearing in the Market Place and the High Street in Wells, and one of her team contacted County Hall to find out what was going on. He was told the Conservatives had introduced a new highways maintenance policy, called ‘black topping’ as part of their cost-cutting plans.
Tessa said “I was staggered to hear Cllr Harvey Siggs’ team has come up with this idea! It’s an incredibly short-sighted decision, and I have written to Cllr. Siggs asking him to reverse this policy immediately. Patch tarmac repairs look unsightly and are completely out of keeping – this is Local Authority vandalism – carried out in our name”.
“You can guarantee that if any of us ignored planning guidelines in an historic or conservation area, the Council would be down on us like a tonne of bricks. It seems the County Council thinks it can do what it likes – all in the name of saving money.”
“The Government has given extra funds to the County Council for roads in rural areas – this is exactly the sort of thing that extra money should be spent on.”
She continued “Wells’ local economy is dependent upon tourism and heritage and there is nothing more important than to preserve the unique environment of England’s smallest City. We have so many lovely listed buildings, like the Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace and beautiful streets, such as the 14th Century Vicars’ Close, which is the oldest continually occupied street in Europe. The Wells Tourist Information website says “it has remained unchanged in nearly 700 years”.
“I really don’t think local people voted for this, “it has remained unchanged in nearly 700 years, until in 2011 Somerset Conservatives – on a breakneck mission to eliminate all debt – decided to jeopardise Wells’ precious heritage by coming up with an idea to patch tarmac on our mediaeval streets”
A spokeswoman for the County Council said: “Due to budget constraints on the County Council, we can no longer continue to maintain and resurface roads to the extent we have been doing in the past. Repairs to paving, slabs and paving blocks will now be made with Tarmac which is a cost-effective measure. The most important task for Somerset County Council is to maintain a safe network, which may not allow the replacement of existing materials like for like.”