As pavements became ice rinks this morning as snow froze overnight, there was no good news for pedestrians facing ungritted pavements in the local area.
As we reported yesterday, local Green councillors have condemned Lancashire County Council's lack of gritting of pavements. Unlike many other councils, it makes little provision for such action and there is no likelihood the policy will be revised in time to benefit taxpayers.
County Council policies are subject to regular review through the democratic process winter maintenance policy was reviewed in September last year by the Sustainable Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee (this link to the county council web site includes the agenda and report).
Based on its overall findings, the issue of gritting pavements would seem, in part, due to a lack of funding for such action.The report reveals that, confronted with the worst winter weather in 30 years last year (2008-09), the total cost of carrying out the winter service was £5.2m, £1m over the budget that was set aside for this service. (The overspend was largely contained within the overall budget for highway maintenance).
While the outcome of that Winter Service Review does not seem to have been published (or if it has, it is not in an obvious location on the County Council's web site), under current arrangements, the Council's first priority is to try to keep the main roads free of obstruction from snow and ice. These roads form the pre-cautionary gritting routes which receive treatment based on the weather forecasts received from the national Met Office, roadside weather stations and staff inspections.
Some footways receive incidental gritting when there are no parked vehicles, but no footways are specifically included in the pre-cautionary routes.
The good news is that there is a list of priority footways and secondary routes that receive treatment in periods of prolonged icing. The bad news is that these will be gritted only in daylight hours and only if resources are available, and a list of which routes should be gritted does not seem to be available on the County Council web site - unlike other councils, who publish details of what routes they should be gritting.
virtual-lancaster has also learnt that on the 22nd December - just as snow was beginning to grip the area for the first time this winter - there was a County wide instruction not to fill grit bins that could be used on pavements, due to the state of existing salt stocks which are being reserved for keeping priority traffic routes open.
This means that there will be no filling of grit bins for the foreseeable future or until salt stocks can be built up to give some resilience.
The County Council is, of course, facing a difficult situation. The threat to the
main roads has been such that resources have been fully employed in trying to keep the pre-cautionary routes open and as a result the Council says it has not been able to fall back on the priority footways and secondary routes as much as they would have liked.
It seems unlikely, then, that any pavements will be gritted - although the Council has, as we reported, gritted its own properties, such as White Cross - and the Council will not be in a position to take action for some time.
"The County Council with its many fine policy documents on how much it promotes, celebrates and values walking and cycling does not grit walking and cycling routes," notes local councillor John Whitelegg, who has raised the issue of problems for the elderly on estates like Lancaster's Bath Mill, many of whom have reportedly been rendered housebound because of the conditions> "The proof of the pudding is in the lack of gritting."
The bottom line if you're a pedestrian or cyclist? Keep your fingers crossed for a thaw...