Monday, 21 August 2017

Utility companies blamed over missing paving slabs

UTILITY companies have still not returned Henley’s missing York stone paving slabs.

UTILITY companies have still not returned Henley’s missing York stone paving slabs.

In June, former mayor Dave Smewing found 21 sites where contractors had removed or damaged the slabs while doing work.

More than three months later, none of the stone in Market Place, Duke Street and Bell Street has been replaced.

Mr Smewing has renewed his calls for Oxfordshire County Council to ensure the pavements are restored to their original condition and for Henley Town Council to put pressure on the county council.

About half of the slabs were dug up by Thames Water. The rest were removed by gas and electricity companies. Most have been substituted with a temporary surface of either tarmac or concrete.

Under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, contractors must permanently replace highway surfaces within six months. Mr Smewing, who was a member of the town council in 2001 when £600,000 was spent on pedestrianising Falaise Square, said: “The main purpose of buying the York stone was to increase the viability of the town centre as a shopping destination.

“It was an enormous effort to get it installed and the amount it cost back then is worth closer to £1million in today’s money.

“It is a difficult time for businesses so we need to have a high-class offer and York stone makes us a little bit special. It makes us stand out compared with alternative offers like Reading and that is why I’m so concerned about their degradation.”

The town council alerted the county council’s area steward Keith Stenning to the problem in June and he said he would ask a highways officer to investigate.

Since then, there has been no correspondence between the councils.

This week, Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said he would take photographs of all the sites where slabs are missing in order to put pressure on the county council.

He said: “I plan to jump all over this but I want to make sure I have my facts straight. My opinion is that we should shout at them very loudly until something gets done.”

Town councillor David Nimmo Smith, who is also the county council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “The situation has not changed since the summer.

“We have meetings at various stages when work is carried out but once the contractors go away it is difficult for us to make them come back.

“That does not stop us from approaching Thames Water but we do not have the resources to do everything. We are on the case but it is very difficult to get anyone to do anything.

“If the county went ahead and did the work, the chances are we would not be reimbursed. It is a difficult situation and I understand Mr Smewing’s concerns.”

York stone is a tight-grained sedimentary rock that is known for its durability. Ten square metres costs about £700.

A Thames Water spokesman said: “In Henley we often we lay a temporary surface before returning at a later date to replace the York stone.

“We work closely with the local highways department to make sure that this is done. All of these jobs are in hand and we will be visiting the town to make sure that none is missed.”

lWhat do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email letters@ henleystandard.co.uk

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