Most Northern Ireland councils to grit icy footpaths
With the big freeze due to return to Northern Ireland today most councils have caved in to pressure to grit our icy footpaths.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal the number of local authorities tackling the problem of ice on our pavements has more than doubled since last week, with 18 out of 26 councils now gritting dangerous paths.
Our ‘Gritgate’ investigation last week found just seven councils were involved in salting pavements during the cold snap, while anger mounted over the failure of statutory agencies to take responsibility for the footpaths.
Now, responding to this newspaper’s appeal to keep footpaths safe during icy conditions, the majority of councils have changed their policy.
Only eight councils still refuse to grit slippery pavements.
Department for Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy welcomed the turnaround.
“Under the proposals put forward by my department, councils, or groups of traders acting on their behalf, will have the same indemnity benefits as Roads Service,” he said. “Roads Service will continue to encourage as many as possible of the remaining councils to come on board.”
Councils contacted by the Belfast Telegraph said the main obstacles to gritting were insufficient resources, funding and the threat of litigation.
The local authorities continue to act individually, resulting in a piecemeal approach combining informal and formal agreements with the DRD.
While many changed their minds after DRD assurances that councils involved in gritting would not be liable for claims arising from public accidents on footpaths, others stuck to their line that they are “under no statutory obligation” to grit pavements.
Antrim Borough Council, Banbridge District Council and Moyle District Council all said their informal gritting agreements were dependent on manpower and equipment.
Armagh City and District Council urged local businesses to lend a hand clearing snow from footpaths, while Belfast City Council, which was praised for keeping pavements safe during last week’s big freeze, called for grit supplies so residents can help themselves.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said there is still a long way to go before the Gritgate debacle ends.
“We don’t want the disaster that took place last week to be repeated,” he said.
“This is one of the most important times of the year for retailers and I hope these changes put pressure on the remaining councils to start gritting.”
Meanwhile, people have been scrambling to buy salt after Mr Murphy gave assurances there was no issue of liability for the public gritting icy footpaths if they were careful in doing so.
And hardware stores have reported a huge increase in demand for salt. Trish McCully from Milebush Building Supplies, Carrickfergus, said: “We had some salt this week but it’s all gone now. We have been told there will be no more salt until January because our suppliers can’t get it either.”
Those ice-bound pavements... what your local authority will do
- ANTRIM said it continued to co-operate with the Roads Service over gritting but was seeking a longer-term solution.
- ARDS said DRD has the power to grit footpaths and was considering its proposal with regards to funding last night.
- ARMAGH has agreed to work informally with the Roads Service to ensure salt is available and to clear paths to and from car parks, in front of vacant properties and footpaths in the city centre.
- BALLYMENA has been gritting selected pavements since 2001.
- BALLYMONEY has decided not to take on gritting work from DRD but will help traders to obtain salt supplies if they want to do the gritting themselves.
- BANBRIDGE said it did not have the resources to grit pavements and is not responsible for doing so.
- BELFAST said it has no statutory obligation to grit but is considering a number of initiatives. Councillor Ian Crozier said: “We would particularly like to see supplies of salt made available at some of our facilities, such as selected leisure centres and parks, for community use to help people help themselves.”
- CARRICKFERGUS said it planned to sign up to the agreement proposed by DRD on gritting and expected to start gritting pavements today.
- CASTLEREAGH said it has no statutory duty to clear footpaths and considers those with expertise and equipment best placed to carry out this work. This will be considered at a meeting today.
- COLERAINE has been gritting pavements since December 9.
- COOKSTOWN is not gritting pavements but the matter will be considered at a meeting on December 21.
- CRAIGAVON has been gritting the main pavements since Monday.
- DERRY will be gritting pavements, with 20 staff redeployed to grit streets.
- DOWN has an informal agreement whereby some of its street cleaning and estates staff began clearing and salting pavements in Downpatrick, Ballynahinch and Newcastle last Thursday.
- DUNGANNON said gritting is the responsibility of the Roads Service but this was discussed at a meeting on Tuesday night and may change. Acting chief executive Alan Burke said: “We are working with councillors to see what informal agreements can be put in place to make grit available.”
- FERMANAGH said it has been gritting the pavements for a number of years. When the Roads Service supplies the grit, it supplies the labour.
- LARNE has no official agreement on gritting but is operating on an informal basis with DRD to target gritting in key areas and to provide assistance to vulnerable members of the community.
- LIMAVADY has followed its own policy of responding to requests from the Roads Service subject to available resources.
- LISBURN said when grit is provided it is distributed using council staff and vehicles, but it was not aware of any council gritting footpaths outside town or city centres other than on council property.
- MAGHERAFELT is waiting for legal advice on the DRD's revised agreement from last Friday before it decides to grit the main footpaths in Maghera and Magherafelt.
- MOYLE has an informal arrangement with the Roads Service to grit designated footpaths on request. Head of technical services Aidan McPeake said: “The main commercial and business areas in the larger towns in the district will be prioritised and then depending on resources we will try to extend that, but it will not be every footpath.”
- NEWRY AND MOURNE has come to an interim arrangement to provide assistance to the Roads Service on gritting. Vulnerable locations such as care homes, doctors' surgeries and churches have been prioritised.
- NEWTOWNABBEY said staff are gritting and maintaining pavements providing access to council facilities including parks and leisure centres. It will discuss the DRD’s offer of grit supplies at a meeting on December 20.
- NORTH DOWN said its decision not to take responsibility for gritting has not changed since last week. The council will continue to review the situation and lobby for the provision of grit boxes in badly-affected areas.
- OMAGH said it had started gritting last week after assurances from the DRD.
- STRABANE has been gritting some footpaths since last Wednesday after negotiations with the local DRD office.