Where did the gritters go?

Snowy wallHere’s my latest column for the Muswell Hill Flyer and the Highgate Handbook:

By the time you read this, I am assuming (hopefully rightly) that the snow has melted and gone and life has returned to normal. But all did not go that well during the two snowfalls – the ones before and after Christmas.

Haringey Council say that they have ‘agreed priorities’ with their contractors on what gritting should happen when it snows. However, those priorities don’t seem to have been met judging by the picture painted by local residents.

I’d been expecting that – as with previous years – Haringey Council would say they had done a good job and residents would say otherwise. So this time round I made sure lots of evidence was gathered in – by emailing out during the first snow fall asking for reports from the people on my email list. (Let me know if you want to sign up to similar emails in future by contacting me on lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org).

I received over 200 emails back with details of each person’s personal experience in their road and they painted a very bleak picture.

Many priority roads (those roads designated to be treated first) were untouched; even where the road surface was done, the pavements of many priority roads were untouched; the side roads were frequently impassable and the majority of the grit bins checked by local councillors Gail Engert and Martin Newton were empty.

It’s a good thing I asked – and people kindly provided so much evidence – because from Haringey Council’s initial response to me it sounded as if Haringey thought all was fine, the contractors had done their job and there was no need to worry. Certainly not – as I was able to point with lists of specific road names where their contractors had not done the work.

It seems to me that if the ‘agreed priorities’ are not actually delivered as agreed then that is a breach of contract. And it would be reassuring to know that Haringey is checking on this rather than me.

Also, although no one expects a local council to be able to grit all the side roads in its area, it should make sure grit supplies are available near residents to grit their own frontages and roads. After all, however clear the main roads are, if you can’t reach them – you’re stuck.

We look enviously at other countries such as the USA and Canada, where each household takes responsibility for clearing their own bit of curb and road. But how can we do that here if there is no supply of grit or salt (even in a pile) in your road? How can you get to the very sparse grit/salt bins that are provided if they are not near where you live and what is the point if they are empty if you do manage to get to them?

And what about the pavements? So many people have accidents during this period. I was in email correspondence with a consultant at the Whittington who said they had 100 snow injured people in just one day.

Surely it must be cost efficient, as well as somewhat more human and considerate, to enable people to help themselves when the weather dumps on us?

So let’s hope that the information provided to Haringey Council enables them to ensure that next time we get a much better service – one where they know what their contractors are really up to and one where residents are given help.

We shouldn't face being sued!

My Aunt Hettie is not going out of her flat during this period. She broke a hip last year, is 90 years old – and very sensibly she is holed up for the duration.

But most of us have to go out. Most of us understand that when it snows it can be dangerous and slippery and we may well fall over.

I want us to be like Canada or the USA where we all clear the snow from the space in front of our own dwellings. But according to the Law Society (and the debate at Question Time in the Lords and various article) we may risk being sued if we do and someone falls over on our patch. If we don’t they can sue us – rather than the Council. (The Council has a duty of care towards its residents).

I would say to the Law Society et al – if they think that creating a litigious atmosphere by their pronouncements is helpful – then they should hang their heads in shame. People should feel free and encouraged to do their community bit by clearing snow away. They shouldn’t be inhibited or quashed by being warned off. And if there is legal doubt – then they are the body that should be campaigning to ensure that the law or its consequences does not stop people clearing their frontages. Bloody ridiculous!

Firstly, if I fell over because a bit of ice had formed in a bit of pavement where my neighbour had cleared their frontage – my first thought would not be I must sue them. I would regard as an accident. Not everything is someone’s fault – particularly if the motive was to improve the situation. And given Haringey’s hands off policy towards side roads – I would like to see a community snow plan for every side road where local people can clear their own frontage with grit supplied to the road by the Council – without fearing litigation.

This is just a world gone mad! I’ve cleared the snow off my front steps so that visitors and the postman won’t slip on them. I await a lawsuit!

UPDATE: Thinking further – am going to take this up with Minister of Justice – to see how many cases there have been!