Emergency action plans have been drawn up to help prevent another ‘freeze up’ crisis across Northern Ireland as the winter fast approaches.
Last Christmas, the worst wintry weather in years left ice-covered roads and footpaths treacherous — as confusion reigned over exactly who was responsible for keeping them clear.
And then the massive thaw left thousands of families without water — summed up by the ignominious image of hundreds queuing to fill water bottles in the streets.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, who took over from Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy following the May Assembly election, agrees the 10-day New Year holiday period brought misery and chaos to dozens of towns and villages. But now, as winter begins to whip back in, preventative measures have been taken to make sure his Department and NI Water are better prepared.
A 300-strong squad is on stand-by ready to swoop to keep open icy roads — and is to remain in place until next April.
Extra stocks of bottled water have been brought in — and increased supplies of salt to keep traffic moving will be available.
There will also be around 4,200 salt bins and 40,000 grit piles placed on public roads.
And NI Water, which was at the centre of the harshest criticism of how the crisis was handled after burst pipes left thousands without water, is this week conducting a ‘major incident’ exercise to help stave off a recurrence.
“We are all aware of the chaos that occurred during last winter,” Mr Kennedy said. “One of my first tasks upon taking up office was to ensure that plans were well advanced to ensure the department was prepared for winter.
“NI Water has been working hard to address the action points that arose out of the review from last winter.
“From the end of October until the middle of April, Road’s Service will have over 300 people on standby ready to salt main roads to help drivers to cope with wintry conditions.”
The ‘combat the cold snap’ plans include:
having a 300-strong ‘task-force’ on stand-by to salt roads until April;
having a total of 110,000 tonnes of salt in storage;
extra bottled water stocks;
4,200 local salt bins;
a new deal between Stormont and local councils.