Major review to help keep city on move during winter freeze

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A FINANCIALLY-stricken council is conducting the first review of its kind to establish where dwindling resources should be targeted to grit roads this winter after admitting it is planning to recruit more volunteers to keep routes clear.

York Council is launching a three-week consultation from today to pinpoint where its winter maintenance budget, which is due to be slashed by a third to counter cuts in the Government’s funding, should be employed most effectively.

It is the first review of the criteria used to prioritise which roads should be cleared and gritted throughout the city since the council was formed in 1996.

Plans are also being drawn up to build on the initial successes of a snow warden initiative, which has attracted more than 120 volunteers so far across the city, and the council is asking for feedback on what improvements could be made to the scheme.

The authority’s cabinet member for environmental services, Coun David Levene, said: “This review has enabled us to make the savings made necessary by reduced Government funding whilst for the first time since 1996 drawing up a clear, fair, transparent policy on salt bin placement and our grit network.

“We need to ensure that we provide the best possible service to residents and businesses which is why their views are so important and will help guide our decision.”

Local authorities had faced stiff criticism in the wake of the harsh winters of recent years due to a perceived failure to keep roads and footpaths clear.

York Council received complaints following 2009’s big freeze, which was the coldest winter for more than 30 years, about the state of footpaths as well as some roads and cycle paths which the public felt had not been gritted.

Issues were also raised about the positioning of salt bins in the city, leading to plans being drawn up for the overhaul of the council’s winter maintenance services.

The council is, however, faced with an ever-dwindling pool of financial resources to conduct key services, as it is having to make £20m in cuts over the next two financial years,

The review follows agreement at the full council meeting in February to make £60,000 savings to the winter maintenance service’s current budget of £180,000.

The review will ask for feedback from the public on the criteria used to grit routes and the location of grit bins, with the views used by the council to “rationalise and streamline services to focus on priority areas”.

During the last year, the council has developed new criteria to assess which areas in York should be gritted, as well as the location of hundreds of grit bins.

The consultation will ask peoples’ views on these policies and where they think winter provision is most needed in the city or if they believe existing grit bins should be relocated.

There are about 400 grit bins located across the city, with 145 of them funded by the highways department. A further 56 bins are self-funded and do not form part of the review and consultation.

The remainder were previously funded by ward committees. The proposals would increase the number of grit bins funded through the highways team to 158. Through the review, the council stressed it will adopt a “responsive and customised system” to ensure the gritting fleet is used most effectively.

A council spokeswoman maintained the safety of the public is “paramount” and measures will be in place during the winter to ensure all key routes are cleared.

Feedback from the consultation will be considered on September 24 before any final decisions are made. Details about the survey along with the criteria and gritting maps is available at www.york.gov.uk/wintermaintenance from today.

paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk