Somerset under fire for refusing torch

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The Independent Online

The objections are, admittedly, more civilised than the human-rights protests that hampered the torch relay in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Yet plans to parade the Olympic flames across England ahead of London 2012 have hit a stumbling block after Somerset declined the option for the torch to be paraded through its streets.

County councillors have turned down the initial bid, believing that £315,000 costs of road closures and traffic management schemes would make an "open-ended commitment" too difficult.

If upheld, the decision means that the Olympic torch will have to divert around the region, via the neighbouring county, Dorset, which is hosting the sailing events.

The organisers of London 2012 want the torch to travel through places of cultural, historical and sporting significance as well as areas of natural beauty, and all areas of the UK have been invited to decide whether or not they would like to host the torch. Up to 8,000 people will be involved in the relay, with the actual route to be finalised later this year.

But the move has been met with derision by critics, who believe that Somerset could miss out on a rare opportunity for the county that would go on to create its legacy.

The former council chairman Alan Gloak said: "Here the flame will not pass. Why? Because of the cost. The administration at County Hall have decided that we cannot afford this cost.

"We can afford a new Cabinet Office costing £300,000-plus, we can afford to part company with an award-winning chief executive at a reputed £500,000 and then hire a new one at a reputed £160,000, but the Olympic Torch – no."

The decision to turn down the bid is understood to have been taken by councillor David Huxtable after advice from officers and considering the costs incurred by the county after hosting part of the Tour of Britain cycling route in 2009.

A London 2012 spokesman said: "We have travelled the length and breadth of the UK over the last three months to share our vision for the torch relay, explain how it works, and the different opportunities for hosting it.

"Should Somerset have concerns, there is plenty of time to discuss and work through any issues they may have."