Friday, 19 July 2019

Utility companies are accused of destroying stone pavements

Utility companies are accused of destroying stone pavements

UTILITY firms have failed to replace expensive paving stones in Henley after digging them up to carry out repairs.

Town councillor David Eggleton says he has identified several patches in the town centre where contractors for Thames Water and telecommunications firm Openreach have swapped original materials for poorer quality or less attractive substitutes.

In some cases they removed slabs of York stone, which is twice as expensive as ordinary concrete paving and was installed more than a decade ago to help make the town centre more attractive.

Some areas have had “temporary” asphalt or concrete surfaces for months and a number of these are uneven or starting to crack so pose a trip hazard.

Councillor Eggleton has traced the companies responsible through Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, which gives permission for works to be carried out, and is calling on them to return to finish the jobs.

He also wants the county council to tell the town council every time it gives permission for repair works, so photographs can be taken of the area to be dug up beforehand to avoid potential disputes.

Cllr Eggleton says the worst example is a section of about eight York stone slabs outside Caffè Nero in Bell Street which Thames Water removed and replaced with tarmac about seven months ago.

Under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, contractors must permanently replace highway surfaces within six months.

The original paving, which costs about £110 per square metre, was installed in 2008 as part of a £400,000 resurfacing project in Duke Street, Hart Street, Bell Street and Market Place.

It was funded by the county council and South Oxfordshire District Council and followed the town council’s £600,000 pedestrianisation of Falaise Square with York stone in 2001.

Cllr Eggleton, who used to lay road surfaces for Henley contractors Aubrey Watson and Walden & Son, says the adjacent slabs are at risk of subsiding and will need to be realigned or someone could trip on them. He said: “I understand that these streets are a bit more difficult to work with but the companies should take more care and plan work in advance so that they’ve got the replacement materials to hand.

“I’ve seen them going at it like a bull in a china shop and smashing loads of tiles but if they took more care they could just break up one paving slab and slide the rest out.

“They should be able to put shingle back in, compact it and replace it on the same day instead of putting tarmac down.”

He is also concerned about an uneven patch of asphalt outside the former Autolex car parts shop in Friday Street, which the water company laid after removing concrete slabs for repairs about four months ago.

Cllr Eggleton says several people have already tripped here.

There is also an “unsightly” spot outside Patisserie Valerie in Market Place where Thames Water removed a York stone slab, cracking the surrounding stones, and concrete was poured into the empty space before two people left footprints in it. This was done almost two years ago.

Meanwhile. Openreach, part of the BT Group, has replaced several stretches of cobblestone on the pedestrianised speed humps in Market Place with ordinary bricks.

There is also an area of exposed concrete outside the Facy department store which its contractors embossed with the outlines of cobblestones.

Cllr Eggleton said: “They told me it was just a temporary surface when they were doing it but if that’s the case I don’t understand why they went to the trouble of making it look like a permanent one. These companies need to be held accountable for everything they do and we’d like to have the works logged on a system by the town council so that we can chase them up instead of leaving it to other authorities.

“At the moment it’s quite hard to trace who has done what. You end up being told, ‘well, it could be this or that company’ and you can’t be sure who to approach.

“That can be a problem if two companies have worked on the same area because they can claim it was in that state already.

“Whenever I see someone digging, I always make a point of asking who’s doing it. If we knew about every single piece of work, we could have a definitive record so there wouldn’t be this confusion.”

Cllr Eggleton said Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks set a better example as it replaced the York stone slabs which it removed from outside the Tudor House antiques shop in Duke Street to carry out repairs in August.

The company took four months to source the right materials but said it always intended to do so and wanted to make sure they matched exactly.

It has recently replaced the York stone it dug up outside the former Hearns of Henley shoe shop in Market Place.

A Thames Water spokeswoman said: “A temporary surface is occasionally required while we carry out essential repairs to make our network more resilient for the future.

“Any paving slabs which can’t be replaced immediately are safely stored away from the site to be placed at a later date, keeping disruption to a minimum, as agreed with the council.”

An Openreach spokeswoman said there was no record of work being carried out in Market Place in the past six months but the company was willing to discuss Cllr Eggleton’s concerns and possibly inspect the site to see what might be done.

A county council spokesman said: “There is no excuse for tarmac to be left in place of paving stones.

The supervisors at the companies know that if they are carrying out work on the footways where York stone slabs have been laid, they are to use special lifting gear, set the slabs to one side and re-lay them on completion of work. All utility work can be traced.”

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