THE county council has said it has learned lessons from heavy snow falls a year ago and changed its approach to harsh winter weather, but admits there is still room for improvement.
Councillors have thanked snowplough and gritter crews for their efforts in sometimes extreme conditions, such as on Northumberland’s high moorland roads.
They have also pledged not to compromise crew safety despite the latest round of redundancies at County Hall.
South east area committee members have now backed three measures to improve winter services: use the local knowledge of county and parish councillors to identify ice risk areas; use more multi-purpose vehicles to which snowploughs can be fixed and store more salt under cover to make it more effective and prevent pollution.
Area maintenance manager Steve Bucknall told the meeting in Lynemouth: “We’re not good at listening to the local people and finding out where they want us to deliver services.”
A pilot consultation scheme at Cramlington had come up with a list of priorities for severe weather.
“I think we recognise that Ashington was particularly badly hit during the bad weather and there’s probably a few lessons we can learn,” added Mr Bucknall.
Coun Margaret Richards thanked crews who had worked early and late to clear roads in her ward at Seaton Delaval.
Coun Jeff Gobin was concerned that crews would be cut to single operators, but he was told drivers went only went ‘solo’ when it was safe.
Executive member for transport, Coun Alan Armstrong, said he was against cutting crews.
He said: “Last winter, a plough did go off the road and fortunately the driver was all right – he was found quickly. But you just can’t risk it.”
Coun Wayne Daley asked what had been learned from the last bad winter.
Mr Bucknall said: “We failed to manage expectations of the public, because people genuinely believed that every single footpath and every single road, no matter where it was, would and should be cleared.”
Coun Daley said Falkirk Council had an online interactive map that showed which roads had been gritted, but Northumberland’s website was not as good.
He added that often people needed only a little help.
Coun Daley said he had seen drivers dig themselves out on estates only to find the main roads still blocked.
The council has four times more grit bins than it realised and is deciding how they should be distributed across the county.