Belfast Telegraph

Gritting of icy roads is put in jeopardy by cutbacks

By Noel McAdam

Ice-packed roads may not be gritted and snowfalls cleared as a result of deepening Stormont budget cuts, it has emerged.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has warned he may have to cut £3m earmarked for combatting the worst effects of winter.

He has made an emergency appeal to his Executive colleagues, in particular Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, and insisted that politics should not be played with essential services.

The Ulster Unionist Minister also warned he might be prepared to spend the cash rather than take risks with public safety - which would mean exceeding his Department's budget.

"Nobody should underestimate this. There are clear implications not only for the DRD budget but potentially for an Executive overspend. Surely no one will want to be in that situation, because it will reflect badly on all of us," he said.

"I very much hope that people will not play politics and that we can restore this budget and ensure that the level of service that we would seek can, indeed, be provided."

Meanwhile, however, arrangements are in place to bring farmers and contractors in to assist with the clearance of snow from local roads in rural areas.

And DRD has also confirmed that apart from the salting programme for the the main roads network, some 50,000 grit piles and approximately 4,800 salt bins will be provided across Northern Ireland.

The Department has already implemented a barrage of cuts to meet its reduced budget, including making funding reductions to Translink; stopping external contractors' work on routine road maintenance, including grass cutting, and suspending the use of external contractors for the repair of street lights.

"The next stage of resource measures available to me would involve cutting core front-line services, including some £3 million of funding for winter service activities," Mr Kennnedy added.

"These measures directly affect public safety, including no gritting or snow clearing. I am simply not prepared to put the public at risk by stopping such services."

The Transport NI section of DRD already concentrates resources on the province's important routes, which carry over 80% of daily traffic, as well as main main through routes carrying more than 1,500 vehicles per day.

Other busy through routes carrying more than 1,000 vehicles per day may be included if there are difficult circumstances and special allowance is made for school and other buses by a weighting factor - for example a 40-seater bus is counted as 40 vehicles.

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