Heroic effort, but let’s have improved planning

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Editor – Councillor Strange does well to praise the efforts of individuals and local authority front line staff in responding to the recent extreme weather (letter December 22). Their efforts were no doubt Herculean in difficult circumstances.

But, as an elected representative, he misses the point.

Those hard-working people were let down by woefully inadequate planning. Yes, main routes were cleared but that’s where planning stopped. Town and country side roads, and public car parks and pavements have remained anything from difficult to treacherous weeks after the main weather event. If the county and district authorities don’t recognise this as unacceptable they will have failed in their duty of public service.

The 2010 Risk Register for Lincolnshire lists severe weather as one of 11 top risks for the county and identifies the Wolds in particular as vulnerable to heavy snowfall. Other risks, including flooding, industrial accidents and pandemic flu, all have clearly defined lead agency responsibility and some indication of well developed response plans. And what do we find under severe weather? The lead agency will depend on the type of event and planning will be ‘multi-agency’. A classic recipe for everyone thinking that planning was someone else’s job.

Two lessons are immediately obvious. Firstly, a speedy response for all locations (not just main roads) is essential. As any householder who has delayed clearing a path for days knows, the job is easier done immediately the snowfall stops. Secondly, clearing roads by pushing snow onto paths and walkways simply solves one problem by creating another.

I therefore urge the local authority to do two things. Unlike last winter, avoid publishing the usual self-congratulating newsletter telling us how well they did. By all means commend the efforts of staff, but do not try to convince us or themselves the job as a whole was well done.

Second, and more important, consult with all local communities to establish locally-devised plans that will meet local needs; use local resources and that can be initiated without time-consuming reference to a central authority. This may mean the Highways Department rethinking some of its cherished regulations that on this occasion stifled local initiative (report December 15).

An annual review could keep plans fresh and the occasional rehearsal would be no bad thing. If they remain unused for decades all well and good, but at least they’ll be there when needed.

How about next winter?

Philip Raven