Fringe Box



Opinion: High Street Setts, Let’s Have Some Action – Not More Paper

Published on: 21 Mar, 2013
Updated on: 22 Mar, 2013
Guildford's iconic High Street complete with granite setts first laid in 1868

Guildford’s iconic High Street complete with granite setts first laid in 1868

by Martin Giles

So the Local Committee of SCC/GBC councillors have agreed that council officers should draw up a maintenance strategy for our ‘cobbled’ High Street (what hope is there if they don’t even know it is constructed of granite setts?), the most iconic in the county.

To draw up this strategy they will: complete a full condition survey to establish failed/failing areas and residual life; identify the optimum repair technique which closest matches existing. This is likely to involve trial areas in the High Street itself; Identify funding streams. These will include SCC centre maintenance budgets, commitments by the local committee, development contributions (environmental) and possibly private contributions;  and review methods of delivery. SCC’s term contractor May Gurney is engaged to undertake all repair work on the public highway and its input will be essential in developing repair techniques and delivering the work.

Opinion Logo 2Let me save them the bother and the expense.

1. The condition is lamentable and shameful, especially because it is, as has been stated, the most iconic street in our county.

2. It needs to be fixed using techniques that have been in use all over the UK and Europe for well over a century. Start at the bottom and work your way up relaying the setts properly. *

3. Money should come from the SCC funds. After all the need for repair should not be that much of a surprise. The setts were laid in 1868.**

There you go SCC, you can have that consultancy report for nothing. If you get cracking now perhaps you could report back in June that you have started rather than just produce a pile of paper which will cost us thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in man hours?

Oh, and forgive me if I don’t agree that May Gurney is essential to the process, if the length of time this has taken and the quality of the repair work at the top of the High Street are measures.

See also: Local Committee Agree to Develop a ‘Maintenance Strategy’ for ‘Cobbled’ High Street

*Why not get some eastern Europeans in to do a good, inexpensive job? Or workers from our twin town Freiburg, where there are many similar streets in excellent condition?

** ‘In 1868 the then borough surveyor Henry Peak was instructed to repave the street with stone setts. This took over a year to complete and cost £11,000 – a sum which required the council to take the unusual and unpopular step of borrowing money.’ [Source Guildford As It Was by Matthew Alexander.]

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Responses to Opinion: High Street Setts, Let’s Have Some Action – Not More Paper

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    March 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Why not take a leaf out of our twin town Freiburg’s book?

    They use granite setts through out Freiburg.


    Because in the long run they are more cost effective!

  2. James Gross Reply

    March 22, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    The problem will be in finding the skilled labour to undertake whatever maintenance measures are arrived at.

    I would agree that the best approach would a (albeit highly disruptive) complete re-lay.

    I did an apprenticeship in Germany in the early 1990’s where we learned to lay granite, plus all kinds of other sets. The labour gang I worked with included one chap we called ‘Der Papst’ (the Pope) who was a proper ‘Meister’ (master-craftsman). I’ve worked on hard landscape projects across the UK and Europe and the sad fact is that we simply don’t have the skills or knowledge any more in the UK to maintain historic streets to an acceptable standard.

    The suggestion of involving the City of Freiburg is an excellent one. Perhaps SCC and GBC could work with the Freiburg Association and engineer some kind of labour and skills exchange?

    If not I can see another bodge on the scale of the recent North Street relay, which although slabs and not setts show just what terrible workmanship can be signed off as ‘acceptable’ by the responsible authorities.

    • Martin Giles Reply

      March 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      Thank you for your comment James. You obviously know your subject.

      The idea of involving Freiburg was suggested to me by Bernard Parke. I agree that it is an excellent proposal and could be a real practical and valuable use of the twinning arrangement.

      The Germans seem to have much to teach us about vocational training, apprenticeships and the like. Unlike too many of us, it seems, they still appreciate the value of practical skills.

      Re the disruption, it did seem manageable when the section by Holy Trinity was relaid. Anyway, in my view it would be a price well worth paying.

      I know some feel that worrying about the setts is backward looking but I feel we should take care of our old, attractive and indeed iconic structures, as well as looking, quite properly, to the potential of new developments.

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