Icy Weather Issues

As the cold ‘snap’ has dragged on into something longer the challenges for local people and for the council have increased.

North Shields has been stuck in freezing conditions for over a week now, recognised by the triggering of cold weather payments to those eligible. We all face the challenge of keeping our homes warm, with worries about the cost more present in our minds than ever before.

My respect goes out to those with outdoor jobs. They have been facing the conditions bravely. I was impressed by the council’s bin team continuing their rounds, pretty much on time, in very cold and difficult conditions.

One of the issues that people have grumbled to me about this week is the issue of slippery streets and the need to be gritting pavements. Several mentioned people having fallen and I heard (unconfirmed) reports of some ending up in A&E as a result. I raised these issues shared with me with the council department responsible for managing the council’s cold weather response. I would summarise what I found out as follows:

  • Because council resources are so stretched due to budget cuts it is very difficult for teams to react when things happens that are outside the usual run of the mill. There is no spare capacity, everybody is already at full tilt.
  • The priority is gritting main roads so that motorists can get around. There are a lot of resources for this, gritting trucks, salt dumps, even snow ploughs. Pedestrians barely get a look in. I have found very little evidence so far of any planning to target icy pavements that present a risk to people who have to get around on foot – which often means older residents.
  • Grit bins are few and far between. They can also present problems for the 95% of the year when they aren’t needed. People frequently use them as litter bins and they often get vandalised.

As a local councillor I feel like people deserve better than simply being left to their own devices in weather like this. However, with such limited resources it’s hard to know what to do. My gut feeling is that some kind of plan involving a joint effort between council and communities could make a difference. Perhaps grit could be dropped on street corners for local people to spread around in trouble spots? Locations could quickly be shared via social media.

Ultimately, the weather is by nature unpredictable. But I think there’s more to be done in cold weather than just put our woolly hats on. We need to put out thinking caps on too.

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