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Council grits teeth over snow road rage.

Byline: PAUL DALE

Highways officials have been accused of cutting by almost half the amount of salt to keep Birmingham's roads clear during the coldest winter for decades.

City council bosses ordered 6,900 tonnes of salt for 2010-11, compared to 12,000 tonnes last year.

The decision was made even though the council was forced to order additional emergency salt supplies in 2009 after the 12,000-tonne reserve ran low.

The figures were published follow-w ing Freedom of Information Act inquiries by the TaxPayers' Alliance, which condemned Birmingham and other English councils for gambling on not having two successive snowy winters.

But a council spokeswoman said the claims were misleading, adding that the 6,900 tonne order was merely the first in several batches of salt and grit. The city would probably buy more salt by the end of this winter than was the case last year, the spokeswoman added.

There are signs of unrest within the city's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at the failure to keep all roads clear during heavy snowstorms last Saturday.

A number of leaked emails reflect the disquiet, with Oscott Tory councillor Geoffrey Green admitting he did not believe an emergency planning report setting out how well the city was coping with the bad weather.

Coun Green said: "The main roads had not been gritted in preparation for this widely predicted fall of snow, the grit bins in the outer areas had little or no grit available. The only area of the town that appeared to have seen a concerted effort of grit-t ting was the steps by the fountain.

"In my opinion the response has been totally inadequate and is summed up by the title 'emergency planning'. This is not an emergency, it is winter, you expect snow and we should have a programme to deal with it."

Springfield Liberal Democrat councillor Tanveer Choudhry, replying by email, said: "I'm afraid I have to agree with Coun Green. The majority of the inner city was not gritted properly. I had no choice but to go to Capehill and there was nothing but chaos on the roads.'' Asked to comment on the gritting procedure, Hall Green Liberal Democrat councillor Jackie Hawthorn replied: "What gritting?" Roger Harmer, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group, suggested that all motorists in Birmingham may have to copy Alpine countries by fitting snow chains to their cars if freezing winters become the norm.

Coun Harmer (Lib Dem, Acocks Green) warned the council would have to "increase radically" the amount of money it spends on clearing snow and ice if Arctic conditions become a regular occurrence. He at-t tempted to defend the council's ef-f forts, pointing out that grit does not work in very cold temperatures.

He added: "I got stuck for a time on Saturday, but the road had clearly been gritted recently. The problem was the snow was settling on the grit and a van couldn't get up the hill until we all got out and pushed.

"If this kind of winter weather is going to become a regular event we will have to increase radically the level of resources we have to deal with it, and that includes individual requirements such as everyone having snow chains for their cars. But I think its wrong to complain that our gritting team isn't doing its job unless colleagues have evidence that is the case in their area."

Cabinet housing member John Lines, a Tory councillor for Bartley Green, said the absence of snow ploughs to clear roads made Birmingham "look foolish".

In its press releases the council has taken care not to raise expectations: "Roads around the city centre are running pretty well and staff are doing what they can to clear and grit footpaths in the city centre in an effort to maintain as close to business as usual for one of the busiest shopping days of the year. But weather conditions have been severe with temperatures as low as -9C, which is hampering the effectiveness of the grit."

Paul Tilsley, deputy council leader, said: "Heavy snow will always disrupt traffic and transportation as it is falling. Our programme does mean we can recover within a reasonable time. While traffic disruption was severe and widespread our recovery on Saturday and Sunday was perceived by many to have been a success."

Cold comfort for council: Paul Dale: Page 27

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Birmingham came to a standstill on Saturday as snow on untreated road surfaces meant nightmare driving conditions for motorists
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 23, 2010
Words:749
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