WORK to replace cobbles around an 18th Century town hall has been described as “the type of vandalism not seen since Rome was sacked by the Visigoths.”

A protest against digging up the cobbles on an area of Yarm High Street was organised by Yarm Residents Association (YRA) and about 1,500 people have signed petitions against the plan.

The protesters argue that digging up the cobbles will alter the historic nature of the area around the town hall, built in 1710.

Stockton Borough Council is spending £500,000 on improvement work on the High Street. Street lighting has already been replaced and the plan is to clean up and improve access to the war memorial and the disabled toilet in the town hall as well as the overall look of the area.

But a row has blown up after the YRA said there had not been a proper consultation, which has been refuted by leader of Stockton council, Bob Cook.

YRA candidate for Thursday’s Yarm Town Council election, William Wilkinson said: “I really can’t believe what they're doing to our lovely town. This type of vandalism hasn't been seen since Rome was 'sacked' by the Visigoths.

“They've just completely ignored the people of our town. This has to be the most un-democratic council in the country. Yarm needs to go back under the jurisdiction of North Yorkshire and we will do everything we can to achieve that.”

In response a spokeswoman for Stockton council issued a press release which listed four meetings at which the plans were discussed with Yarm Town Council, three meetings at which members of the Showmen’s Guild were present and one meeting with members of Yarm Chamber of Trade.

Coun Cook said that claims the council had not consulted people over the improvement scheme were not accurate.

He added: “As a result of these discussions we made revisions to materials, timescales and even colour schemes in line as suggested by them.”

It is expected the work will take about 12 weeks. Stockton council’s controversial plan to introduce pay and display parking on the High Street is also expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.