A masterplan to keep Northern Ireland’s footpaths free of snow and ice this winter has been announced.
It is an effort to avoid the chaos seen across the province last winter, caused by confusion between Stormont and local councils as to who was responsible for gritting dangerously icy footpaths.
As the ‘cold war’ between councillors and ministers raged, pedestrians, young children, the elderly and businesses were left to suffer.
During the debacle, retailers called for a “greater joined-up approach by regional and local government”, to limit the effect on lost trade.
It is now hoped an arrangement between the Roads Service, Northern Ireland Local Government Association and Society of Local Authority Chief Executives will avoid a repeat of last winter.
According to the Department for Regional Development, a set of key principles have been developed to provide a basis for partnering arrangements between councils and Roads Service for the coming icy conditions.
It is understood councils across Northern Ireland will receive protocols on treating footpaths from the Roads Service by the end of this week.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said the decision was made to “plan ahead and use the resources best available”.
“I’m obviously keen to make sure that on every level the Roads Service and department are co-operating.
“I think the agreement we have with NILGA is good and will be carried forward and across those in the 26 councils.
“I think we are trying to plan ahead and use the resources best available to us — in a cohesive and collaborative way.”
Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party said the plans showed “positive progress”.
In the midst of the ‘big freeze’ last January, there was major confusion over which authority was responsible for gritting pavements. Councils insisted all gritting was the responsibility of the Department of the Environment’s Roads Service — but Roads Service said its gritting policy did not extend to footpaths. As the row continued, reports flooded in of people taking matters into their own hands and gritting their own areas due to local shortages of salt supplies.