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25.11.14

Council grit budgets down by almost a quarter as first sub-zero temperatures hit Britain

As Britain braces for the first sub-zero temperatures this winter it has been revealed that council budgets for gritting roads are down by an average of 24% across England.

The East Midlands has seen the most cuts, with road gritting budgets down by 43.5%, followed by London who has seen cuts of 37%. The other areas worst hit include the north west with reductions of 28.3%, the east of England with 27.4% and Yorkshire and the Humber down 27%.

The south east has seen the least reduction, only losing 5.3% of its grit budget, according to official figures for 108 councils, out of 150 in England.

Hilary Benn, the shadow local government secretary, whose office obtained the figures through Freedom of Information requests, said ministers must ensure that gritting services are “fairly funded”.

“It’s vital we keep our roads and pavements safe for drivers and pedestrians at this time of the year,” he said. “I worry especially for elderly residents who could face dangerously icy pavements this winter, which is expected to be colder than usual, and for drivers on our roads.”

Britain is on heightened alert for a big freeze this week, with airports and local authorities preparing for temperatures to reach -7C. 

There was widespread frost on both Sunday and Monday night as temperatures dipped below freezing across much of England and Wales, going down to between 0C and -4C in many places. 

A spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA) said: “At a time when local government funding has been cut by 40%, and pressure on vital services continues to grow, councils are doing all they can to find solutions that don’t impact on vital services that residents rely on.

“Despite current circumstances, councils have made every effort to remain as prepared as ever for keeping our roads safe with 91% of councils either maintaining or increasing salt stock levels this winter. We also have a fleet of state-of-the-art gritters ready to be deployed.

“Gritters have already been out testing routes and treating roads when temperatures have dropped below freezing overnight and highway teams are constantly monitoring up-to-the-minute weather reports to stay one step ahead of the weather.

“Keeping the country moving during winter will be a community effort as always with thousands of grit bins filled and volunteers recruited to help people clear pavements, paths and side streets when needed.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT) said: “There are bigger stockpiles for gritting roads than ever before. Around 1.7 million tonnes of salt are available this winter to keep Britain moving in the event of extreme winter weather.

“The department is closely monitoring resilience across the country, but winter service planning, de-icing stock supplies and resource allocation is the responsibility of local highway authorities.”

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