Thursday, 21 January 2010

Icy Pavements: Should Councils Have Done More?

The Department of Transport has advised local MP Geraldine Smith councils should, perhaps, done more to clear pavements and roads during the recent snowy weather.

Earlier this week, Geraldine asked Sadiq Khan, the Minister of State, Department for Transport what guidance his Department issued to local authorities on responsibility for clearing pavements which are unsafe as a consequence of adverse weather conditions.

The government minister told her the Department for Transport did not issued guidance on responsibility for clearing footways in adverse weather conditions, but it did endorse the UK Roads Liaison Group's code of practice, "Well-maintained Highways" (available at:, direct link (PDF) here) when it came to keeping traffic and pedestrians moving safely.

"Local highway authorities have a duty, under s41 of the Highways Act 1980, to maintain the roads in their charge, including footways," said Mr Khan. "This duty specifically includes 'a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice'."

In its detailed "Well Maintained Highways" guide, the Roads Liason Group includes the advice that risk assessments should be undertaken to establish which routes should be included in a programme of treatment during winter. "In particular, the treatment of carriageways, footways and cycle routes must be considered taking account of risk to all highway users and consideration of the available resources," it notes. However, it also recognises the costs of gritting, for example, all bus routes (some local routes weren't).

As we previously reported, during the recent bad weather Lancashire County Council was responsible for clearing and gritting roads and, as highways authority, if forced to do so, would have to shoulder a huge cost of a full scale gritting of pavements if the area again had heavy snow. The cost of doing this across the county are unknown but in Leeds, for example, it's estimated gritting every pavement would cost about £1 million a day.

"We had 4,000 tonnes more grit than last year and were still running out," a Leeds council spokeperson said.

The County Council does not seem to have a coherent policy on gritting pavements in Lancashire. Lancaster City Council took action in some areas where there was high pedestrian footfall, such as the Millennium Bridge, but for the most part pavements were left untreated and there was a huge rise in falls because of the icy conditions.

As far as we are aware the cost of not clearing pavements - which would have prevented an increased number of falls that in some cases, resulted in death and overall placed a huge burden on local health services and damaged retail sales and other business - has yet to be fully assessed by the government or any council. It seems unlikely there will be that kind of joined up thinking at government level.

Whatever the final outcome of the debate on gritting, the Department for Transport is warning councils they need to be prepared for more bad weather, recognising that climate change is having a considerable impact on the UK’s highway network, and has commissioned a research
project to investigate the implications of the changing climate for highway maintenance on different types of pavement.

Perhaps we'll see different types of pavement covering introduced that will be more resistant to ice. Considerable research is being done, to help benefit cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians alike.

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