Road gritters defended by council’s boss of transport

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SIX inches of snow falling in less than an hour across the city took everyone by surprise as the white stuff threatened to ruin Christmas in 2010.

Like the Post Office and the binmen, plough and gritting lorry drivers took a lot of public abuse for their treatment of the grid roads in Milton Keynes, but were the headlines justified?

Councillor Vanessa McPake, Cabinet member for Transport at Milton Keynes Council insisted the council did as much as it could to ensure the roads were passable, but the extreme weather was preventing the grit from working.

“The key issue was the technology behind it,” she said. “The grit does not work at temperatures below -7, and we had -13 in some parts of town.

“And then, of course, the snow fell, and you cannot grit over the top of the snow. So there were many layers of grit down on the main, priority routes, but snow over the top, and temperatures too cold for it to have any effect.”

Many complaints levelled towards the gritting teams were that they didn’t cover a specific street or area – an issue to be addressed as soon as possible.

Councillor McPake said: “Last year, we reassessed our priority routes to take into account what we felt to be the major routes that drivers were likely to take through town, so we will be looking to do that again.

“We simply cannot grit every residential street in Milton Keynes – it is just not possible. But last year, we put out an extra 150 grit bins in Milton Keynes, in streets where it would be difficult to get out if it snowed, and filled them up three times over the Christmas period, at a cost of £20,000 a time.

“But there is always room for improvement. We have got to look again at our Winter Plan to assess what went right and what went wrong, and what we can do to improve upon it next year.

“We have had some bad winters recently, and we have to establish whether this is down to global warming and whether it will be a regular occurrence.”

With the snow falling in the last shopping weekend before Christmas, it was hard to tell whether the traffic build-ups in Milton Keynes were solely down to the weather, and not just the heavy volume of people wanting to get the last gifts on their lists before the big day.

“All the shops in the centre remained open,” said Councillor McPake. “We worked hard to get the roads around the centre cleared and gritted to make sure that people could get to the shops.

“I heard complaints about the level of traffic, but every year you hear horror stories of traffic jams in car parks and on the roads around the centre – it was the last weekend before Christmas so there were a lot of people out there.

“But we were fortunate enough to be able to keep the shops open, to allow people to keep up with their shopping.

“We were badly hit. We all expected the snow, but not so much so quickly. There are places nearby in Northamptonshire that barely had anything fall, and yet we had nearly six inches within an hour.”

But despite the heavy snowfall, and the ongoing cold snap, Milton Keynes still has enough grit to ensure that the roads remain safe. However, as a member of the National Salt Cell, the council did offer two trucks of grit to Hertfordshire Council, which did not have enough.

Councillor McPake praised the teams giving up their Christmas dinners to get the roads running again and make sure that the public was safe when driving.

She said: “I want to thank the gritters and the people out ploughing the snow for the work they put in. I know they worked throughout the night trying to clear everything and get the roads gritted. I also would like to thank the families of those who delayed their Christmas dinners or family occasions so they could go out gritting on Christmas Day.

“When we do have a heavy bout of snow, it is important we all help each other and self help at local level is an important part of the chain in keeping public roads and paths clear.”