Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Bad weather talks hit by storm

The storm has disrupted a Commons committee meeting due to hear evidence of how transport copes with... bad weather
The storm has disrupted a Commons committee meeting due to hear evidence of how transport copes with... bad weather

The storm has disrupted a Commons committee meeting due to hear evidence of how transport copes with... bad weather.

Due to the knock-on effect of today's hurricane-force winds, the House of Commons Transport Committee has had to amend its hearing on transport's winter resilience plans.

An evidence session involving aviation witnesses has been cancelled, with the meeting pushed back 40 minutes.

But the committee will be able to hear, as planned, from newly-appointed Transport Minister Robert Goodwill and from Transport for London and the Highways Agency.

A spokeswoman for the committee said: "Arrangements for the Transport Committee's first evidence session on transport's winter resilience have been revised because of transport disruption caused by today's storm."

When the meeting finally begun, the committee's chairman Louise Ellman said that not only had some witnesses been unable to turn up but also some MPs were not present due to the weather.

Highways Agency chief executive Graham Dalton told the committee that he was "reasonably happy" with the agency's responses to the storm and that the forecast received from the Met Office had been good.

He said there had probably been "no more incidents than we would have had on an ordinary Monday - just different incidents".

Mr Dalton said the fact that this was the first day of the school half-term holidays, when the rush hour is normally much less busy, had helped and that the weather forecast had been early and accurate.

Dana Skelley, Transport for London's director of roads, who was representing the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, told the committee that London's buses had run most routes today although some buses had to divert to avoid fallen trees.

Asked if she was concerned that local authorities' cutbacks might impact on transport's ability to cope with a bad winter, Ms Skelley said London was "in a good position".

She was asked if the country could cope with, say, three weeks of continuing snowy weather. Ms Skelley said reserve stocks of salt "were certainly there".

But she added: "The state of readiness (for winter) across the whole country is probably mixed."

Mr Goodwill said that in the winter of 2009/10 there had been 750,000 tonnes of salt for the roads in reserve, but now there was "three times that amount".

Similarly, while there were 2,545 gritting vehicles available in 2003, in 2013 there were "half as many again".

Asked if he could say what the Met Office was predicting for the winter 2013/14, Mr Goodwill said he treated long-range forecasts with "a degree of reservation".

He said the Government was "planning for the worst and hoping for the best", adding that the Department for Transport had significantly improved its winter resilience programme compared with the winters of 2008/09 and 2009/10.

Mr Goodwill said that the Government has been working with Network Rail to get round problems such as the ability of the third rail - which picks up the power for trains - to cope with freezing temperatures.

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