ENGLISH Heritage has condemned a move by Somerset County Council to replace historic cobbles with paving slabs.

Simon Hickman, principal inspector of historic buildings and areas for English Heritage in the South-West, said: “We think the paving works carried out harms Dunster’s historic qualities and we are contacting Somerset County Council to see if a more sensitive approach could be adopted.”

Although English Heritage does not have a statutory role in the decision-making behind the removal of the cobbles, it is able to offer expert advice to local councils on the subject.

English Heritage commissioned a research project last autumn aimed at providing ‘good practice’ advice about how historic surfaces can be adapted and maintained for 21st Century use and is due to be published later this year.

“Cobbles in this medieval village are an important aspect of its heritage, although deterioration can create an uneven walking surface which we are aware has been the subject of local debate.

“English Heritage is keen to identify and protect good examples of the West Country’s cobbled surfaces while working alongside local government to ensure in practical terms, public historic spaces are accessible to all.”

The cobbles have been removed from West Street, Dunster, by SCC in order to make the pavement safer to use. Cllr Harvey Siggs, Somerset County Council’s cabinet member for highways, said: “We won’t be able to please everyone and four years ago the work in the High Street came in for similar criticism.

“But it’s important we get this as right as possible for Dunster so we are continuing to listen to the local community and exploring several options.”

Residents have also expressed their anger about the type of material used to replace the cobbles and the County Gazette reported last week that MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset Ian Liddell-Grainger dubbed the move “an act of vandalism”.

Timberscombe resident Pete Bird, 70, has set up a petition calling for the Government to “step in and stop destruction of the cobbled pavements in Dunster”.

He said: “Tourists come to Somerset to see beautiful and quaint little villages like Dunster and I feel they have destroyed that beauty.

“I want the cobbles reinstated as they were.”

The petition set up last Thursday had secured 652 signatures, by the time the County Gazette went to print. The petition can be found at http://epetitions.direct .gov.uk/petitions/73807.