Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Emergency meeting over big freeze

Many flight timetables have been thrown into chaos by the snow

Government chiefs have held an emergency weather meeting to discuss the nation's ability to cope - as pensioners were reported freezing to death and commuters faced continuing chaos.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond summoned the group for an hour-long meeting on Friday to "stocktake" and discuss preparations for the weekend, a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

The top-level discussions came after meterologists said there is no end in sight to the bad weather, and after two pensioners fell and died in their gardens in Cumbria after spending freezing nights outside.

Downing Street declined to guarantee the country would not run out of salt and grit, saying the nation is "in a much better position than we were last year".

The spokeswoman added there are "no major concerns" over supplies of food, petrol, diesel or gas despite the continued freezing conditions, while gas supplies are higher than last winter.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, education minister Sarah Teather, health minister Paul Burstow and energy minister Lord Marland were joined by representatives of the Met Office and local councils at Friday's meeting, with the Scottish Justice Secretary also involved via telephone.

Despite Downing Street's assurances, the Retail Motor Industry Independent Petrol Retailers' Association said some forecourts are out of fuel and others could run out of petrol by the weekend.

This week has seen airports close, trains grind to a halt and millions of travellers' plans thrown into chaos because of continued snowfall and plummeting temperatures.

Mr Hammond, under fire from Labour and told to "get a grip" of the situation, announced a review of how transport operators have coped with the big chill.

Neil Bentley, of the Confederation of British Industry said: "Given the critical economic importance of the transport network, this review is as welcome as it is timely. It is important that transport providers work with the Government to improve the ability of the network to cope with adverse weather conditions."

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