.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In the snow and the ice

Having spent a couple of hours yesterday effectively digging my car out of a lane at the top of a hill in Cwmbran I have every sympathy for those whose travel plans have been disrupted by the weather.

I had no choice but to take my car into the hell hole in which it ended. I had to transport an elderly relative with a broken ankle, who could not get down to a clearer road. There are many others in a similar position.

I am old enough to remember similar experiences in 1981, when Britain had one of the coldest and snowiest months of the last century. The night of the 12th to 13th December 1981 was a record breaker with temperatures plunging below 18C, whilst a large part of the country was snowbound for more than three weeks.

I mention this to illustrate that no matter how bad things are now, they have been worse and, if anything, the response of the Government and local Councils has been better than it was then.

Schools were closed then too, though most of the weather coincided with the Christmas and New Year holidays. Bread and milk were failing to get through ungritted main roads, whole communities were cut off and I recall one instance where a snow plough was abandoned after failing to clear the snow in front of it. Road and rail transport was seriously dislocated, airports were closed and electricity and telephone services were disrupted for thousands of customers. The Queen was stranded for several hours in a Cotswold pub.

It is undoubtedly bad now. Yes, pavements and side streets have remained ungritted, Councils are running out of grit, parents are getting frustrated at the fact that they cannot send their kids to schools and we have even seen some airports closed for a few hours but nothing on a scale with 1981.

The reason is that Councils are better prepared and better organised than they were then despite what is said in the press. Council workmen have been working around the clock to keep key routes open and they have succeeded. They should be thanked more often for their hard work. And despite grumbles from some politicians Councils did have much higher stocks of grit at the start of this than they have had previously at the beginning of winter.

The problem is that this winter has lasted longer than anticipated and no amount of planning can have anticipated that. Councils also have to strike a balance between how much they invest in such preparations against the likelihood of it being needed and spending on other areas such as road maintenance, though the snow will send that bill through the roof as well. In addition there is only so much storage space. It is a crystal ball exercise but it seems that some politicians with the benefit of hindsight do not see it that way.

The fact that there is only one major supplier of road salt in the UK, in Cheshire does not help, nor does the fact that deliveries to Councils seem to have dried up over Christmas and New Year. Now there is a shortage of grit salt but to be fair to all concerned I think everything possible is being done to deal with that. I am certainly not going to claim I could do any better.

It is for these reasons that I find the remarks of the Welsh Conservative Transport spokesperson so bizarre in this morning's Wales on Sunday:

The lack of salt across the country was last night blasted by Wales’ shadow minister for rural affairs Brynle Williams, who warned the lack of grit was already causing chaos.

“The Welsh Assembly are hiding and keep saying ‘we had this and we had that,” said the Conservative Assembly Member.

“But we knew the weather was coming and it’s unacceptable what’s going on. There has been no forward planning.

“We have had two weeks of bad weather and the country is coming to a standstill.

“How did we manage back in the 1960s and ’70s?

“The roads have been chaos and there will be a lot more chaos if the weather carries on like this.”

The simple answer is that we did not cope and that we are coping better now than we did then. This weather is not normal for Britain, nor is it easily predicted far enough in advance to take the sort of extraordinary measures Brynle envisages. It is obvious that he and his party have been out of power for some considerable time.

I do not believe that if David Cameron or Nick Bourne were running things today that grit would miraculously appear out of thin air or that their crystal ball would be any better than anybody else's. I know it is asking a lot but surely some politicians would do better to engage their brain before pronouncing on these things.
a simple question: who's in charge of salt/grit?
Local authorities appear to be responsible for spreading, and the National Salt Cell appears to be running the command economy supply.
But is this a London or Cardiff matter when we get round to analysing who should have planned better?
That is actually not a simple question. Local Councils are responsible for gritting that part of the road network they look after and National Government (WAg here and Westminster in England) are responsible for trunk roads and Motorways, much of which is contracted out to Councils on an Agency basis. Thus each must take responsibility for their own salt supplies.

However, there is also a National Emergency planning responsibility held by the UK and Welsh Governments that means that they should take an overview and assist, in this case by arranging road salt supplies where necessary. There is a command centre in Cathays Park for this purpose.
This is worse than 1981. The major difference is the length of time the sub-zero or near-zero temperatures will have lasted.

The nearest equivalent is of 1963 (I'll point this out before you do, Peter: you can have no personal memory of that time :-)) when the snow lay until March in parts of the south-east.
I remember stepping out of my front door in 1963 and being up to my neck in snow. I was only 3 at the time.

The present crisis is longer just but Britain was stymied for three weeks in 1981. I think my point is that we are coping better now than in 1981. Hopefully you will agree with me on that.
On the 2nd of January, my wife and I were coming back from Broadlands, Bridgend to Maesteg.

Broadlands was a very pleasant 1ºC.

We came home our usual way, via Rogers Lane in Laleston, turning right at the Cefn Road/Farm Road (B4281). Followed this road until reaching the Fountain Inn then turn left onto Fountain Road. This road cuts throught the woodland and the Aberkenfig nature reserve, so imagine my surprise when I seen a gritting lorry approaching me with lights flashing and rocksalt spreading......

I find it unfortunate that this "road" that is infrequently used, gets gritted and Llynfi Road, Maesteg, leading to the main carpark and some shops (Aldi, Wilkinsons, Argos, Iceland) in Maesteg doesn't get gritted.

It's was around -1ºC in Maesteg, some of the snow has thawed, the snow left on the roads and pavements has compacted, and froze solid that night.

Apparently, most if not all councils have "Gritting Routes" mainly "A" roads, people should ask where the priorities lie in which roads get gritted during such adverse weather conditions, this can be easily done using the Freedom of Information Act.
Since 1981 we have had relatively short lived cold spells. This has meant that the expenditure on salt/grit has been low. Every council has to budget annually for such events - so where has all the money gone.

Swansea council has benifited from the good years but when we need an efficient service they cannot provide. I hope the council gets sued for thousands because they are useless and have failed to fulfill their duty of care.
Let's not forget the little guys in all of this..they have done alot more than council:
the baker, the milk supplier, the coal merchant, supermarket delivery vans ..they all have been more beneficial to the community than the council have, getting produce to out the way places
Anon 5.18pm: you obviously have not read a word I wrote. The Council stocks up with road salt every year, it is just this year it has not proved enough despite bringing in more than usual. It is not finance than prevents them restocking but a nationwide shortage that the UK Government is trying to address.

The Council is fulfilling its duty of care as best it can with the resources available to it but there are matters out of its control. Swansea is no better or no worse than any other Council.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?