Pavement v. Tarmac - Council Shows It's Sensitive Side

Following the controversy over the replacement of pavements on the Buarth with tarmac (see 18/2/09), which did at least result in a short stretch of original 100 year-old town paving slabs being preserved, many residents in that area asked what exactly Conservation Area status for the Aberystwyth town area means.

They pointed out that the status places significant restrictions on what residents can do with their properties but that the Council seem to contribute nothing themselves. During the discussions held whilst work on the pavements was suspended, it became clear that Council officers had simply not thought about this before and they ultimately agreed a small compromise on the Buarth by preserving the oldest section of paving.

After the dust had settled I asked the Officers to review how they would deal with this issue in future and, last week, they produced a presentation to the Council’s Highways Scrutiny Committee which proposed the adoption of a set of guidelines for Council workers encountering historic pavements. Based on a policy adopted in Liverpool, the proposed guidelines include:

DO – always find out if the scheme you are working on is in a conservation area or not. If so, bear conservation in mind.
DO - look out for natural stone (or other historic) paving materials on site. Make sure their presence is noted by the client and/or contract supervisor.
DO - lift paving materials carefully, always protect the edges and upper face from damage.
DO - store paving materials carefully. Use timber pallets and battens to stack flags and kerb stones.
DO - protect paving materials from theft.
DO - number with chalk and record all random sized flag stones, kerbs and channels if they are to be put back in place.
DO - spend time checking the setting out.
DO - allow for the time on site needed to achieve high quality workmanship.
DO - think carefully about the jointing details.Small details can make or break a scheme.
DO - follow the specification and any design drawings carefully.

DO NOT - remove historic paving materials unless absolutely necessary. A cracked slab or chipped kerb may be perfectly serviceable.
DO NOT - throw historic paving materials in the skip. All material which cannot be reused on site should be recycled through the proper procedures.
DO NOT - cover over historic paving materials unless absolutely necessary.
DO NOT - stack materials under or against trees
DO NOT - use mechanical diggers under trees.
DO NOT - cut up historic materials which are being reinstated in an attempt to make them
DO NOT - use large amounts of mortar to fill oversized joints. Make the joints tighter
DO NOT - remove historic street furniture.
DO NOT - change the detailing on like-for-like repairs. Historic details, such as fanned
corners, are as important as the historic materials.

The presentation didn’t meet with a great deal of favour from the committee, although it would certainly have done so from Aberystwyth town residents. Rural councillors in particular, who comprise the majority in Ceredigion, seemed to resent Aberystwyth for having pavements at all when parts of their own areas lacked them. A clear urban / rural divide was evident.

Whilst not all town residents feel as strongly against tarmac as those on the Buarth, most people prefer pavements and regret the Council’s new policy of replacing defective pavements outside the very centre of the town with tarmac.

Council Officers have obviously been stung by the criticism on the Buarth and now seem to genuinely want to act more sympathetically in future. Despite the lack of backing from much of the committee, it was agreed that the Officers should push ahead with their ideas and work on the Council adopting firm guidelines for the future.

There’s no getting away from the financial pressures which are leading to tarmac replacing paving stone. Uneven or cracked pavements presenting trip hazards have frequently resulted in Councils across the country, including Ceredigion, being successfully sued for accidents caused in tripping. The laying of tarmac is very substantially cheaper than paving stones and it’s hard to get away from that at a time when the funding of public services is under severe pressure. Under current financial and legal conditions, these guidelines won’t change the Council’s need to replace ordinary substandard pavements with tarmac.

However the intention of Ceredigion Highways Officers now is that they will in future avoid the kind of insensitivity that would have seen historic section of pavements on the Buarth thrown in the skip along with the rest if people hadn’t intervened. Where there is genuine historic value in pavements (and there are a number of such pavements around Aberystwyth and other towns in Ceredigion) then these guidelines, once adopted, should help to preserve them. That will be thanks to the residents of the Buarth.