Friday, January 08, 2010

Being Prepared

Mr Peter Black has commented on my recent post 'Council's Revenge', making an unflattering comparison between my opinion and that of fellow Conservative, Jonathon Morgan AM, who represents Cardiff North. At issue is my criticism of the preparations made by Powys County Council to cope with wintry conditions on our roads.

My mild criticism was made before the recent heavy snow (which because of it's severity, has conveniently saved the Council embarrassment - in that all councils now have a problem). I had moved on, but Peter's comment, and sight of a letter to an Assembly Member from Transport Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, written on December 23rd has stirred me to revisit the issue. You could say that I'm rising to the bait.

Let's rewind a few weeks - to late November. I was born to be a Welsh hill sheep farmer, We tend to caution and 'worrying about a rainy day'. Every November, when I see gritting lorries spreading salt all over the place at the merest whiff of frost, I'm prone to muttering 'There will be none left when they need it". I used to proclaim, but I've been proved wrong so many times, that I now just mutter to myself. This year was no exception.

But there was no need to worry. Just before Christmas, Powys County Council informed us that they had a 'plan' were would deal with all possible eventualities. And on 23rd December, Ieuan Wyn Jones informed Andrew Davies AM that "we have taken steps to ensure the 2009/10 winter period passes with the minimum of disruption, should there be a prolonged cold period of severe winter weather". The letter ended "....and we will all be better placed to deal with periods of severe winter weather should they occur". Just two weeks later, and before the recent snow fall, Powys and other county councils were reporting that salt stocks had almost disappeared. Seems to me that its entirely reasonable to ask questions about what happened to 'the plan'.

And the situation in Powys is rather different from Swansea and Cardiff North, which Peter and Jonathon represent. In Powys, the Council plan to salt just 15% of the highway network anyway. The reality is that farms, and people living in rural areas have just been abandoned. I can see that following the moderately heavy snow, the Council cannot do much about it now. I just do not think that fairly mild criticism of how this situation came about was unreasonable.


alanindyfed said...

Caught unawares - after all it has not happened since 1981.

Glyn Davies said...

Alan - Yes, after the snow it was understandable. But Councils were out of salt befor ethe snow, when the winter had been nothing special.

Sarah Millington said...

Mick Bates was quoted in today's County Times saying something along the lines of ''don't worry, wag are going to give pcc grit if they haven't already'' ... question for Mr Bates, if he thinks they have handed it over already, let me reassure him they have not and if he thinks they are going to, let me assure him, so far despite repeated requests they are not. All of this despite WAG and the chair of the WLGA Steve Thomas releasing a press release only beginning of last week saying they had 18 months worth of salt/grit and were going to assist la's as and when necessary ... it's an absolute joke quite frankly, particularly when you find out WAG have taken over the trunk road's, motorway from cardiff up to the top end of Merthyr Tydfil. Seems yet again WAG forget about the people in Powys .... It's simply not good enough.

Glyn Davies said...

Sarah - Not wishing to be rude to my old friend, Mick, he is yet again talking a load of b*****ks.

Alistair Barber said...

I have a sister in Canada living a couple of miles from a 'Rural Route' i.e. way out in the 'sticks'. Wolves visit her paddock when times are hard in a tough winter.

This year's snow has only drifted up to the upstairs window sills so far. BTW, her house is built on 6ft. high stone pillars.

The local farmers, with their tractors with snow plough attachments go all around the area to the various properties clearing drives at about $20 a time.

Whilst driving from property to property on the local roads, they leave the blade down and clear the road for local motorists. Naturally, major routes are cleared by the 'Authorities'.

My sister drives a Chevrolet Camaro and at the first sign of snow, goes to her local garage where they fit her 'snow' tyres, or 'tires' as they would say.

Life carries on. She gets to work, the local farmers make some dollars when otherwise they'd earn little. Everyone's happy.
Surely this community centred attitude could be adopted in the rural parts of Wales.

I find that in these icy times everyone seems to be over-concerned with apportioning blame to others for various failures, than actually doing something about these failures.

I sometimes wonder how we have survived for so long.

Jeff Jones said...

Glyn the key is to look at the highway budgets over the past 20 years. In many authorities the mild winters have often led to highway departments using the money allocated for severe winter to cover overspends at the end of the year. I bet that in real terms the amount of money allocated for winter maintenance in Powys is less than it was in 1979. In Mid Glamorgan we reduced the gritting coverage as part of the cuts in the early 1980s. Finance officers will also often argue in budget discussions with their highway colleagues that mild winters should lead to less money being given to highways for any eventual severe weather. A fallout from this severe weather will be huge overspends in highway departments this year which will then lead to other cutbacks in the budget on top of those already agreed for 2010/11.

Glyn Davies said...

Alistair - Same goes for Scandanavian countries - anywhere where heavy snow is more common. When I was young, most snow clearance on minor roads in Montgomeryshire was carried out by local farmer/contractors. We needed milk collection every day on the farm, so we used to have equipment to keep roads open ourselves.

Jeff - I'm sure all of this is true but what been lost from council thinking is the 'insurance' mentality. For effective cover against exceptional weather, stocks of salt should be distributed sparingly unless severe weather is upon us. We/ve had so little snow for years that this years shambles is understandable, but there will probably be some better 'rationing' policies in future.

alanindyfed said...

Many people have forgotten the winters of 1947, 1963, 1978 and 1981. I remember them all. It is normal for winters like this to occur at regular intervals. My friend in Canada experiences -42 degC temperatures every winter. It is irresponsible not to have foresight or to use allocated money for other purposes.

suzy davies said...

If Powys residents can't get to the main roads, isn't it the poeple traveling THROUGH Powys that are getting the main benefits? Why is Powys council tax payer coughing up for that? If WAG wants us to keep the trunk roads open, then it needs to give us the salt for them. Simples!

Helen said...

Very well said Suzy!!

Anonymous said...

my friends live in Edmonton Alta Canada, and Michigan USA, they are up their preverbials in snow, and as mentioned by previous bloggers - life goes on via snow plows (their spelling) snow blowers etc. Here the mere whiff of snow - the country grinds to a halt. We are the laughing stock of the northen european countries, who cannot understand why we grind to a halt. Maybe we really should look at paying farmers to clear local roads - and get more salt/grit in stock. Our B road was cleared, but no one could exit the estate (short sharp uphill pull) as the grit box was empty - when various residents phoned PCC for a refill - sorry it was now reserved for main roads . . . for thru passers - as the locals couldnt get out eventually a farmer came with a JCB scraped the road surface, and river gravel was fetched (from the river and probably totally illigal but needs must eh ???) and wheee - we got out to work - to earn pennies to pay the council tax, that provides the salt . . . . . or in theory anyway....

pay the farmers to help out !!

p.s were not even rural - its semi rural just 4 mls out of town