RURAL COMMUNITIES have condemned proposals to slash the number of roads around a Yorkshire city which would be gritted during winter months.
Protesters claim the safety of residents will be put at risk if Sheffield Council presses ahead with plans to reduce the precautionary treatment carried out in anticipation of snow from 720 miles to 610 miles.
Around 200 grit bins will also be removed – with another 200 moved to more appropriate locations – in a bid to save £100,000 from the winter maintenance budget. Main roads and busy routes will remain unaffected.
Proposals have sparked anger in the west of Sheffield, which stands to bear the brunt of the changes, since consultation launched this month.
The less-populated areas are home to a large proportion of the city’s elderly population.
Jennie Street, of Totley Residents Association, said: “Being on the edge of the city, we get the worst of the winter weather. It’s always the last of the snow left here.
“If they take grit bins away it will be absolutely disastrous.
“It will make people housebound. There are a lot of elderly people on my street who have medication delivered to them, this is going to make it difficult for suppliers getting to them.”
The council is planning to halt the recruitment of snow wardens, volunteers who receive training and equipment so they can help out contractors in their communities during bad weather.
Ms Street added: “My neighbour is in his eighties and he has volunteered as a snow warden for years. He does an excellent job.”
Opposition politicians have accused the council of favouring their own wards when drawing up the plans.
Coun Joe Otten, Sheffield Liberal Democrats’ spokesman for highways, said: “Keeping the roads moving is one of the most basic services the council provides.”
“It’s no surprise that Labour politicians have cynically kept this announcement hidden until after the election, when they are choosing to hit rural communities the hardest while protecting their own favoured areas.
“If this decision is pushed through residents in rural communities, particularly the elderly, could be left stranded in their homes for days or even weeks.”
Public consultation on the proposals runs until July 25, with a number of question and answer sessions planned across the city.
Coun Jack Scott, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for the environment, said: “These are unprecedented times for the council and by 2015 we would have lost 50 per cent of our funding from central government.
“This means that we need to change the way we do some things, or to do less.
“This consultation has been designed to gauge the public’s views about our proposals and to refine them to ensure we provide the right winter highway service for the city.
“During the consultation process, gritter drivers will have to drive the proposed gritting routes to see if they actually work to help refine our proposals. Testing of routes will run through to September. However, this does not mean that any proposals have been finalised.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that our proposals will work in practice.”