“Savage” cuts to winter gritting routes across East Cambridgeshire could leave villages isolated and put lives at risk, Lib Dem councillor Lorna Dupre warns.
Writing on her blog today, the district councillor for Sutton and county councillor for Coveney, Little Downham, Mepal, Pymoor, Sutton, Wardy Hill, Way Head, and Witcham attacked a decision to slash winter gritting routes, saying many roads would be left unsafe in snow or icy weather.
Villages left ungritted this winter will include Mepal, Witcham and Wardy Hill, together with the road from Little Downham to Pymoor via California and Pymoor Lane, and Church Lane and the eastern half of Sutton High Street.
Ms Dupre said: “I’ve raised serious concerns about the effect of the cuts voted through in February this year by Conservative county councillors with the help of Independents and UKIP.
“The cuts mean that only 30 per cent of the county’s roads will be gritted, compared with 44 per cent last year – a cut of one-third in the gritting service.”
Cambridgeshire County Council announced that its 26 strong fleet of gritters were due to start work yesterday in time for winter. Last year the council had employed 36 gritters.
Ms Dupre said: “Many villages could find themselves totally cut off in the event of bad weather this winter, with no safe way to get out onto the A and B roads.
“The effect of these savage cuts will fall heavily on rural areas such as Sutton and the Downham Villages.”
The cutbacks would have been avoided if the Conservatives on the county council had raised council tax by the two per cent the government “allowed and indeed expected”, Ms Dupre said.
“By refusing to raise an extra £2 a month at Band D from local households, Conservative councillors have let residents in for a winter of misery and a real risk of more serious injuries on our already dangerous roads.
“Many residents are saying they would have been prepared to pay £2 a month to ensure that significant roads in and out of their villages continued to be gritted.
“Across the county, school bus routes including to Impington and Bottisham village colleges, and accident blackspots such as Branch Bank in Littleport, have not been included in the new gritting routes, as there is not enough money left after the cuts to do so.”
For the second year running, East Cambridgeshire was “significantly” worse than average for fatal and serious accidents on local roads, she said.
Yesterday the 26 gritters were due to arrive at Cambridgeshire County Council’s four highway depots.
The council has a seven year contract with ECON who supply the authority with brand new gritters each year from October through to April. The council says this saves it £117k each year in maintenance costs.
Each gritter is able to carry between eight and 14 tonnes of salt and grit more than 40 miles of road. A salt dome is located in each highway depot, stocking a combined total of 10,000 tonnes of salt. This will be replenished throughout the winter period.
In a press release, the council says: “There is also an army of more than 70 volunteers across Cambridgeshire from local communities and Parish Councils to help treat their local area when temperatures drop to freezing and below. Their great work and effort helps residents stay safe in their communities during the winter.
“This year the routes our gritters will travel along have been revised to reflect the challenging financial pressures facing the council, as agreed in the budget last year.
“The gritting routes have been carefully designed to ensure all strategic routes are treated, as well as all major roads to places such as hospitals and schools.”
Richard Lumley, Head of Highways for Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “We have geared up for winter and we want to remind all its residents and businesses to also be prepared. Ensure you know your gritted route to work in the event that it snows, ensure your vehicle is fit for driving in the winter conditions, and ensure you adapt your driving style to the conditions of the road.
“Even a treated road can be icy and this year there will be some roads that will not be treated, though they may have been in previous years. We would also like to thank all our community volunteers who help treat their local paths.
“During the cold winter months we would also encourage people to look after the elderly and vulnerable in particular and see how they can help their local community generally in the event of severe weather.”
The new routes can be viewed here.