Please can we have our cobbles back?

Date: Tuesday 30th October 2018

Sir, As someone who has lived and worked in Alston for more than 50 years, it is with utter disbelief that I am witnessing the wanton destruction of our cobbled front street by Cumbria County Council (CCC) highways department.

It has ripped up more than half of it, from Townfoot to past the old HSBC building, replacing the cobbles with tarmac, and rumour has it that the rest may go too. How on earth has this been allowed to happen?

The cobbled front street is, and always has been, intrinsic to the character of the town. Its uniqueness has, for decades, drawn tourists here, and it plays a huge part in the story of Alston and its rich heritage. It is integral to what Alston is, and a vital asset. Who in their right mind would dig that up and consign it to the dustbin of history?

Well step forward CCC, whose lack of maintenance over many years meant the street ended up in such a parlous state that swathes of it had to be dug up and replaced with patches of tarmac.

This made it look as though this part of the town was falling to bits, but has conveniently given the highways department the excuse it needs to rid itself of the responsibility of re-laying the cobbles and keeping our front street as it was always meant to be.

All of the buildings in Front Street, from Townfoot to Townhead, are listed. It is classed by Eden District Council as a conservation area and if you want to put a uPVC window in because you can’t afford a wooden one, forget it. Save up and buy the wooden one.

There is also a programme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to restore the buildings and shop fronts in the street back to their former glory, and the ones that have been completed so far have definitely added to the sense that perhaps Alston is not in terminal decline after all.

What is the point in trying to preserve the character and heritage of Alston if CCC can come along and act with such impunity, at a stroke wrecking all of the good work that has been going on for years?

It turns out there are no planning restrictions on the road surfaces, which makes sense most of the time, but when a road is actually the aesthetic and historic heart of a town, as well as its unique selling point, surely more oversight is needed.

Of course money, or the lack of it, is the excuse for all this, but when it becomes apparent how much of our money (£21 million) CCC spent on its failed dispute with Amey recently, you are left wondering how many cobbles that would have laid, and why we even bother paying council tax in the first place.

Please can we have our cobbles back? How can a mindless act of cultural vandalism by a profligate and indifferent council, at just one moment in time, be allowed to strip this town forever of its very identity? Yours etc,