18/02/2009

Buarth Pavement Work Underway


Work is well underway on the re-surfacing of the pavements in upper Buarth Road following a controversy lasting many months.

Ceredigion Council’s original position was that the pavement had been assessed as presenting a ‘trip hazard’ that needed remedying. The Council has a method of assessing re-surfacing priorities using a ‘matrix’ which takes into account numbers of people using a street (‘footfall’) coupled with pavement condition to arrive at a priority list. Upper Buarth Road apparently came quite high up this list (despite no residents complaining about them, in contrast to other places). The Council Cabinet had already taken a decision to abandon paving stone across the County as a cost-saving measure other than for high-usage town centre areas. In line with this they were planning to tarmac the whole of upper Buarth Road at a cost of £22,000. Apparently laying paving slabs instead would have cost an extra £17,000. However it was not so much this that worried the Council but the precedent that would be set for other similarly attractive areas that could have theoretically cost the Council hundreds of thousands of pounds across the county. It’s true to say that, as publicity increased, a few people from other areas began to ask about their own streets.

Many Buarth Road residents are very conscious that their street is a highly attractive example of urban architecture dating back over 100 years and expressed great concern that tarmac would be entirely out of keeping with this. After the issue was raised with me I managed to get the work halted pending a re-appraisal. Various Council officers (planning officers, highways engineers etc) then walked the street and gave their view from their various perspectives. A seven-page paper was then put together listing five different options with benefits and disadvantages listed against each.

When it became clear that the residents' preference of full re-paving was not going to get the approval of the Cabinet Member for Highways, who the final decision rested with, I proposed that, since no-one had actually complained about the pavements, the Council should simply leave them as they were with the exception of the most uneven slabs. This would have involved spending £6,000 patching up the pavement, a saving of £16,000. I felt that this could both provide a cost saving for the Council and be acceptable to residents. However the Highways Department felt this was too risky and could entail increased costs in the future.

Eventually the Cabinet Member approved what was described as a ‘compromise solution’. It was exaggerating somewhat to call this a compromise since it still involved tarmacking most of the pavement. However this did at least save the section of pavement between Edgehill and Banadl Roads as, during the re-assessment period, it was identified that this contained the only paving slabs which dated from the original formation of the street. As I write, these slabs have been pulled up as a preparation for re-laying. This is going to stop at the corner of Banadl Road as there are no plans to re-surface that road at all at present due to its relatively low usage. Having these slabs re-laid and kept is only a small success but nevertheless significantly better than the Council’s original intentions. Once the Council's final decision had become clear I asked the Council to at least put in extra disabled crossings as part of the work and they’ve now agreed to put five in the road.

Buarth residents have very strongly made the point that responsibility for maintaining the Conservation Area seems to rest almost entirely with residents rather than the Council. In the Highways Scrutiny Committee I’ve now asked for the Highways Dept to look at what exactly Conservation Area status means for the Council. In the present climate saving money is coming before just about everything and certainly above higher aesthetic and architectural values.

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