The recent plans by Sheffield County Council to reduce the number of Sheffield roads gritted in the winter is certainly cause for concern. As a provider of winter maintenance services, I am in complete support of the ‘Keep Bradfield Gritted’ campaign. Whilst I appreciate the need for Government funding cuts in some areas, I do not believe this should impact the winter maintenance programmes that are in place to ensure public safety at all times. Given the increasing severity of winters the UK has experienced in recent years, we believe councils up and down the country should in fact be increasing their focus on winter gritting and risk management procedures, rather than making spend adjustments in such an important area.
County Councils are responsible for all winter maintenance. They have a legal duty, as far as is practicably possible, to ensure the safety of the highway user when snow and ice are present. It is clearly impossible to guarantee safety on all highways under severe weather conditions, however there is an expectation that council’s highway winter service plans and practices are in the context of national best practice guidance and the practices of other authorities in the country.
We only need to review recent winters and the chaos caused as a result of failure to properly and effectively grit to understand the real importance of gritting roads in the winter. Cutting winter budgets, and reducing the number of roads that are treated is a recipe for disaster. Not just from a service perspective, but also from a legal one. Councils need to take into consideration the possible legal action that could be taken as a result of someone slipping and badly injuring themselves on an untreated road or pathway.
In the months prior to winter, we witness an increase in calls from private businesses and property sectors who are proactively putting in place robust contingency winter maintenance plans. If private businesses are taking winter safety seriously and are committed to the safety of their employees and visitors, it begs the question why aren’t the councils quite so committed?
In order to keep Britain moving this winter, and avoid any unnecessary road and transport disruption, local councils across the country need to ensure their budgets are able to provide an effective and efficient winter highways programme. Only then will the public be safe, roads passable and Britain on the move.