A perfectly preserved medieval village is set to lose its iconic cobbled streets over health and safety fears, it emerged today.
Cobbled road surfaces and paths in the historic settlement of Dunster, Somerset – which dates back to the Bronze and Iron Age Britain – have been deemed ‘too dangerous’ for pedestrians.
The village – famed for its castle – is regarded as one of the most-perfectly preserved medieval villages in England.
Dunster attracts thousands of visitors a year because of its quaint features – including several ancient cobbled streets which have remained since medieval times.
But health and safety chiefs have ruled them to be too dangerous and a working group is considering replacing them with new, smooth-surfaced roads.
The Dunster Working Group, which was set up to find ways of ”enhancing” the village, is looking at all options to make the cobbles safe.
The group – made up of West Somerset Council, Somerset County Council, Exmoor National Park Authority and the local parish council – claim five people have slipped and injured themselves on the cobbled streets this year.
Chairman Paul Toogood said the plans, estimated to cost over £100,000, would see cobbles removed from the centre of the streets to make them wheelchair friendly.
He said: ”We have no choice – this year we’ve had to call the ambulance five times for people who have fallen over on the cobbles.
”Our aim is to enhance the village – no money has been spent on it for a generation. From a health and safety point of view the pavement is not for purpose.
”We are just trying to improve the village for people who live here, as well as the visitors. At the moment access is not easy to shops or homes on the east side.
”We’ve got to bring the village into the 21st century. We want an area in the middle that is wheelchair and buggy friendly.”
Mr Toogood added that the streets are currently in a state of disrepair because local business owners are afraid of facing litigation if they fix the cobbles themselves.
He said changes needed to be made because some stones had been dislodged creating awkward ridges and holes.
But locals and visitors both slammed the decision and demanded that the cobbled streets be repaired rather than replaced.
Resident Donna Richards said it was essential to keep the original streets to maintain the ”character” of the village.
She said: ”I very often walk through the village with a pushchair and young child and, yes, repairs need to be made.
”But I don’t see them as a problem worthy of replacement. It is vital to keep the history of the village as it is. It is more important now, more than ever, to keep the character.
”In generations past these cobbles have been left for us to see and experience, so do we have the right to take it away from future generations?”
One elderly visitor to the village, Giles Parks, 69, said he was managing to cope with the cobbles despite using a walking stick.
He said: ”Get rid of something as old as this? They must be joking! I’m on holiday from Derbyshire and where I live the council is paying huge sums of money to put in cobbled paths in an old part of town.
”Why can’t people leave things alone? It’s mainly because this village has been left alone that we’ve come to see it.”
* In August, a similar proposal was put forward to replace a cobbled path at a medieval abbey which dates back to 705AD.
Councillors feared that someone would trip on the uneven surface at Sherborne Abbey in Dorset and sue them for compensation.
Dunster began as a Saxon village and has been home to a castle for more than 1000 years.
Listed in the Domesday Book of 1086, the prefix ‘Duns’ may well be a reference to the Saxon Dunn, who held land in nearby.
Famous for making a thick type of wool called Dunsters, many of the townspeople earned a living by spinning and weaving.