Housing estates must be priority for winter gritting

A snow plough and gritter at work near Ashington during heavy snowfalls in February 2009.
A snow plough and gritter at work near Ashington during heavy snowfalls in February 2009.

COUNCIL bosses have been urged to make sure priority housing estates are cleared if there are spells of heavy snow and ice this winter.

With snow forecast for the region later this week, Northumberland County Council is finalising its plans to grit roads and provide salt during very cold temperatures.

But while members of its Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Scrutiny Committee accepted the need to tackle the major routes across the county first, they insisted that a number of residential estates must also be looked at to avoid people being completely stranded.

Chairman Gordon Castle said some of these areas are more critical than others, for example those who live on steep hills.

And Coun Wayne Daley added: “It’s a bit of a joke to grit the main roads, but leave the estates largely untouched because you need cars to get out and put traction on the roads to keep things moving.

“Two years ago, many residents had to cancel hospital appointments and carers couldn’t get out to help vulnerable people because they could not get past the snow.

“There is no reference in the officer report about the 4x4 vehicles available to the fire and rescue service, but I hope they will be used to help clear estate roads.”

The council’s Operational Manager Neil Fearnley said once roads on the gritting routes are in an acceptable condition, workers are able to assist other services on a priority basis such as enabling schools to remain open, making sure care workers can access home care and refuse wagons can get to residential areas.

But he added that although additional support is provided by farmers or heavy plant contractors in some of the more rural areas, it does not have the resources to cover every estate.

The report says there are currently 18,500 tonnes of salt in stock at 11 depots across the county.

A further 19,500 tonnes is ordered and due to be delivered by the end of October and more can be purchased if required.

Two years ago when the weather was extreme, 36,000 tonnes were used.

A total of 33 gritting vehicles are available. Two of them are new and they will be stationed in the north area where conditions are usually more extreme and vehicle reliability is essential.

This will also allow two of the existing vehicles to be used as back-up when a frontline vehicle is off the road.

Mr Fearnley said: “With the extreme winter weather in 2009/10 and 2010/11, we learned a lot about how to effectively communicate with the public.

“Details about gritting routes, location of salt bins, school closures, latest weather forecasts and clearance priorities will be posted on the website and those without access to the Internet can pick up a leaflet from libraries and contact centres. They contain information about the services provided and contact details.”

Coun Peter Jackson asked if the authority was planning to reduce the number of times vehicles were double manned to help reallocate resources to clearing some estates because GPS technology meant that someone could be quickly sent out to help if there was a problem.

Mr Fearnley said a driver assistant will only come along in exceptional circumstances such as extreme weather conditions.

The council has six weather stations across the county and duty managers use a thermal mapping process to predict road surface temperatures and decide whether or not to treat a road.

Council Executive Member for Highway and Neighbourhood Services Alan Thompson said: “It’s about combining good intelligence, resilience and providing value for money because it’s pointless gritting roads that don’t need to be treated.

“Town and parish councils can make a request for additional grit bins and if it’s reasonable we will provide them.”