MP says scrimping on grit has cost us all

Posted On 12 Jan 2010 at 7:53 am

A local MP took the Government to task yesterday for scrimping on salt and grit.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP whose Lewes constituency includes Falmer and Saltdean, said that if councils stocked higher levels of grit and salt then the wintry weather would have caused less damage to the economy.

Mr Baker, the Lib Dem Transport Spokesman, said that better stocks would also keep costs down for the NHS arising from people being in hospital unnecessarily as a consequence of falls.

In Brighton, the Royal Sussex County Hospital alone has treated hundreds of people for broken bones during the icy spells before and since Christmas.

Mr Baker paid tribute to train operators, councils and the Highways Agency during a debate in the House of Commons for their efforts in tackling the recent snow and ice.

But he said that some people, including those in schools, were genuinely concerned about being held legally liable in the event of any accidents.

Mr Baker told fellow MPs: “In my view, many schools should have opened much sooner but have not done so because of fears of liability.

“What sense does it make for children to be turning up at school, having trudged their way through ice and snow to get there, only to be told that they have to stay indoors and cannot go out in the playground to play because schools are worried about being sued if the children fall over there?”

He urged the Government to hold a review of the way the recent disruption because of snow ice had been handled and for the lessons to be learnt.

Mr Baker said: “Some local authorities have done extremely well, but some appear to be using the lack of salt as an excuse to cut back on gritting, perhaps unnecessarily.

“Does the minister recognise that significant long-term costs will arise for local highways authorities as a result of the damage to the road network that will undoubtedly be caused by the use of salt and grit?

“There will be a big repair bill at the end of this. Will he factor that into the local government settlement for councils?

“Does he recognise that some councils, including my own, have taken the view that it is inappropriate to treat any pavements at all and have concentrated all their salting and gritting on the roads?

“Is not that unfair on pedestrians, particularly those who are elderly and infirm, and may, for example, have to get off a bus on to an ice sheet next to the bus stop?

“Will the Minister examine the cost to the economy of this episode, which is running into billions?

“Will he consider whether higher levels of grit and salt maintained by local councils would do more to minimise the damage to the economy, as well as the cost to the NHS arising from people being in hospital unnecessarily as a consequence of falls?”

Sadiq Khan, the Labour Transport Minister, said that six days’ supply of salt would normally be adequate but the country had suffered its worst winter for 29 years.

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