Belfast Telegraph

Plans laid to prevent severe winter weather bringing life to a halt in Northern Ireland

BY NOEL MCADAM

Action plans have been drawn up by Stormont ministers to help alleviate any repeat of the paralysis and devastation caused by the harsh weather which hit Northern Ireland last winter.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy (right), Education Minister John O'Dowd and Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill have all been involved in devising the strategy.

With the south and east of England still recovering from severe storms yesterday, a series of Assembly-written answers revealed that in Northern Ireland:

  • From the end of this week, Roads Service will have 300-plus people on standby ready to salt main roads.
  • Contracts are also in place to enable contractors and farmers to help to clear roads during periods of prolonged snow.
  • Distribution of salt, de-icing and snow clearing products has also been reviewed.
  • All salt barns are at full capacity, with stocks in excess of 70,000 tonnes and with additional salt stock resilience of 38,100 tonnes.
  • The current winter service salt contract also provides for the supply of a further 15,000 tonnes per month to April 2014, if required.
  • An early warning strategy has been put in place to ensure that Translink is notified as soon as possible of school closures.
  • Education and library boards have produced guidance for schools, parents and school transport companies, ensuring drivers are equipped with mobile phones to contact base/schools/boards – and have the correct numbers to call.
  • Joint Agriculture Department and industry fodder task force to support our livestock farmers and help them prepare for the winter months ahead. An action plan has been agreed and is on the department's website.

"Although they don't intend to meet as a group until mid winter, they will get together in the interim if a situation develops," Ms O'Neill said of the initiative.

Mr Kennedy also revealed that a comprehensive review by the National Winter Service Research Group had proved positive for the Executive.

"(It) concluded our winter service policies were well-considered and consistent," he said.

However, one of its key recommendations is that the replacement of the winter service fleet should continue to be prioritised "in order to reduce the unreliability of gritters and other equipment".

"I... will continue to seek funding to ensure the fleet we have is fit for purpose and capable of dealing with the long winter period," Mr Kennedy added.

From the current school year, schools can also avail of a texting service which could help with school communication with parents and teachers.

Mr O'Dowd said: "I understand that Translink, which is contracted to provide school transport services, has also reviewed and updated its extreme weather procedures and implemented a bus fleet engineering winterisation programme."

FACTFILE: LAST YEAR'S TOLL

Northern Ireland's worst snow storm in half-a-century in March cost the public purse an estimated £3m and created a set of grim statistics including:

  •  8,000-plus: the number of dead sheep.
  •  6,000-plus: the number which were newborn lambs.
  • 100,000: litres of bottled water distributed.
  • 12: number of times the main roads network was gritted.
  • 10,000: tonnes of salt used in six days.
  • 84,000: the number of kilometres salted.

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