TWO volunteer councillors who cleaned The Bridge, in Taunton, with buckets of water and sponges have been told off in an “officious” letter – because they didn’t think about protecting passers-by.
Cllrs Jane Warmington and Catherine Herbert, of Taunton Deane Council, wanted to do their bit for the community when they donned their Marigolds and scrubbed the grime off some panels.
But Paul Tucker, Somerset County Council joint acting service manager (bridges/structures), took umbrage after reading about their public spiritedness in the County Gazette.
He wrote: “The works you carried out, whilst I appreciate were good intentioned, were unauthorised, as we, the owners of the structure, did not grant permission and we certainly do not want everyone to think they can just go and do what they like to our bridges.”
He asked whether they had considered protecting passing members of the public, potentially damaging paintwork or getting consent, telling them you cannot “just go ahead and do it”.
He added: “As the structure’s owner we should have been contacted and our permissions sought.
“We certainly do not want to encourage anyone to go and do things off their own back.”
Mr Tucker said the county is now talking to contractors about professionally cleaning The Bridge.
Mrs Warmington laughed off the rebuke, adding: “It could have been written in a more officer to councillor way rather than being so officious.
“Of course what we did was unauthorised, but I’m certainly not going to apologise and I’d do the same again.
“We’re not out to break rules – we just want to get things done.”
Mrs Warmington said negotiations are underway to see if councillors can complete the job.
Jack Hart, from The Freedom Association, said: “These two district councillors should have been applauded for giving up their own time and performing a public service which will have saved the county council money.
"Instead they've been criticised by an over-zealous officer who appears determined to waste public money.
"This is yet another example of local government officers ignoring common sense and entirely over-stepping the mark."
Andy Silvester, campaign manager at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “The council allowing The Bridge to get so dirty that people felt the need to clean it is bad enough, but telling public-spirited people off for doing it is rubbing salt in the wound.”
A county council spokesman said the councillors were well-intentioned and apologised if they took offence at the letter.
But he added: “We do have a duty to make sure works (including cleaning) are carried out safely and properly while respecting any environmental or conservational issues.
“We’re pleased to say that a full clean of the bridge is planned and we have already taken steps to get the necessary consents for this.”
The Bridge was last cleaned in 2008 at a cost of £3,000.
The full email reads:
I have just seen the article in this week’s Somerset County Gazette, page 3, regarding yourselves carrying out cleaning works on a number of panels of Town Bridge in Taunton. I have attached a copy for your information. This article surprised me a little as I am currently in discussions with Cllr James Hunt regarding a full blown cleaning exercise for the bridge and am in the process of obtaining a quotation for these works.
The works you carried out, whilst I appreciate were good intentioned, were unauthorised, as we the owners of the structure, did not grant permission and we certainly do not want everyone to think they can just go and do what they like to our (SCC) bridges. Were any of the following points considered whilst carrying out your works
• Protecting passing members of the public
• Potentially damaging the paintwork on the bridge
• Heritage consents/approval as the structure is listed
• Environment Agency Consents.
Unfortunately we have to consider all of these aspects and many more when preparing our scheme and cannot “just go ahead and do it”. The article in the gazette could affect our good relationship with the Environment Agency and we have in the past and are currently planning cleaning the bridge using just fresh water. Whilst I note you used Ecover, a non-chemical plant and mineral based product rather than harmful chemicals we do not know where this is actually approved for use by the EA over or near to a watercourse.
The main point I am trying to get across is that as the structures owner we should have been contacted and our permissions sought. We certainly do not want to encourage anyone to go and do things off their own back.
Just as an update on our proposed works, I have secured Heritage approval and the EA have informed me that the works should not be a problem and consent will be granted, once they are in receipt of the application fee, currently going through the SAP system. Our contractors are currently obtaining a quotation for these works and as soon as it’s available it will be sent through to James.