Residents urged to call over road freeze

RESIDENTS have been urged to call on their local county councillor if a well-used road becomes dangerous in freezing conditions.

Members of the unitary authority have been told that they can get in touch with an agent on the ground to help them decide where the gritters should go once they have covered the main and secondary routes.

Meanwhile, head of highways and ,eighbourhood services, Andy Rutherford, has defended the efforts of his staff during the last few weeks when many roads were very difficult to negotiate because of ice.

All routes within the winter service policy have been covered and additional support has been provided by subcontractors, such as farmers using tractors in a few areas.

During a meeting of the county council’s economic prosperity and strategic services scrutiny committee, Coun Glen Sanderson asked Mr Rutherford: “When your workers get to the end of their routes, who decides where to go next?”

He added: “Members should be able to get in touch with the decision-makers when they have concerns about roads that need urgent attention.

“At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a clear line of communication.”

Committee chairman Gordon Castle said it would be useful for all county councillors to have the necessary contact details so they can report issues raised by residents as well as ones they have spotted.

Mr Rutherford said: “A supervisor acting as the winter service agent in each of the three areas deals with requests from councillors, parishes and members of the public that are reported through the contact centre, the website and internal emails.”

A total of 33 gritting vehicles are in use. Two of them are new and they are stationed in the north area where conditions are usually more extreme.

There have been some breakdowns across the fleet but Mr Rutherford insisted that there have been no gaps in service, with other drivers and sub-contractors completing the routes in those instances.

He said: “December 11 in particular was an extremely challenging period when the temperatures were below freezing and there were rain showers which made the roads even more hazardous.

“But we were proactive and staff were out between 3am and 4am to assess the situation. I’m convinced that we used all the resources available and met all our commitments on that day.

“However, it’s important to say that if rainwater freezes quickly, ice can form before the gritters have completed their routes so drivers do need to take care.”

Mr Rutherford added that the Fire and Rescue and Waste Services teams are being approached to try and add further driver volunteers and vehicles for the remainder of the 2012/13 winter season.

Coun Colin Horncastle, who represents the South Tynedale ward, said some of the winter problem areas could be improved if works are carried out at other times of the year to improve drainage systems and clear ditches so water does not seep onto road surfaces when it rains.

“The executive must ensure it does not make any cuts to the highways department in next year’s budget otherwise vital works such as this will not get done,” he added.

Coun Alan Thompson, the county council’s executive member for highways, warned that the programme was in danger of “falling off a cliff” if there are significant reductions to its funding.

He also said: “The winter services team have applied themselves very well so far, although we are in a process of continuous improvement. To help with this, information from councillors and members of the public will be extremely useful.”

Coun Castle praised the highways workers for effectively clearing ice from roads and footpaths in his Alnwick ward over the last few weeks.