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Gritty response to winter budget question means snow cuts in budget

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Thursday, Sep 6th, 2018.

Leading Councillors have said Wrexham’s winter service budget will not face cuts, saying any such move would be ‘foolish’, while giving an update to preparedness off the back of the heavy snow earlier this year.

On Tuesday morning Councillors will get a chance to debate an updated Winter Service and Highway Safety Inspections policies.

Cllr David A Bithell, Lead Member for Environment and Transport, will be presenting the updated policies and described the new documents as ‘updates’ rather than wholesale changes.

Cllr Bithell said: “The last review was in 2014, and I am pleased to say the policy has stood the test of time. Last winter we had the Beast from the East, which was one of the worst weathers we’ve had.”

Providing us with a ‘grit graph’ it illustrated the 10,700 tonnes of grit used to keep Wrexham running during some of the heaviest snowfalls of recent years.

The policy explains: “Stock levels of rocksalt are maintained from a starting stock level of 8000 tonnes (3000 tonnes at Abbey Road, 2000 tonnes at Chirk, 3000 tonnes at Llay Depot). Regular deliveries are organised in collaboration with the suppliers to ensure that adequate stocks are retained throughout the winter period.”

Cllr Bithell explained, “We were well tested last year and once again I’d like to place on record our thanks to our street scene staff. Officers are now currently just preparing for this winter, and checking our salt stocks. You might see the odd gritter running around over the next few weeks for training purposes.”

Speaking about finances, Cllr Bithell noted his winter budget allocation had not been cut for a number of years, but explained extra money from the reserve was required to tackle the severe winter, “We have now replenished the reserves, back to £300,000 so that is there for a rainy, or snowy, day.”

In the days before we spoke with Cllr Bithell it was announced by Somerset Council that in an attempt to save £15m they would be trimming winter routes covered from 23 to 16. With ongoing references to a tough financial climate locally in Wrexham Council as well, we enquired if such measures could be seen here.

Cllr Bithell told us the milage covered under the policy has remained the same, and “There is no intention at this time to cut routes.” Cllr Bithell explained using various pieces of software and GPS it is possible to cover the road networks more efficiently, and therefore presumably cheaper, however actual cuts were not planned.

“If we can do ten routes via one route we will, we optimise routes and have new software. As far as route milage and coverage we have not altered our routes for number of years. It is credit to the administration to not cut our winter service policy. Last winter shows the benefits of having adequate resources available.”

“We do get criticism that someones road has not been done, but it is all about maintaining the strategic network, the A483, the A’s and B roads to make sure the economy in Wrexham functions and access to employment is maintained.”

“I would give a word of warning that if budgets were cut we might have difficulties in providing safe access to communities when they have greatest need for it. Glyn Ceiriog had very difficult drifts, some ten foot high. We can’t allow some of these communities to be cut off, we need to make sure access is maintained.”

Council Leader Mark Pritchard went further, to give a firm commitment: “We will not cut the winter maintenance service. I will commit to that now. We will not cut it, and it would be foolish to do so.”

“The important thing is that we send the message that Wrexham is open for business. We have one of the largest industrial estates, we have the prison, we have the hospital.”

Below, picture of Glyn Ceiriog from March this year with the drifts Cllr Bithell referred to:

The Highway Safety Inspections policy is probably rarely encountered by the public, unless you have hit a pothole and are looking to make a claim.

We asked Wrexham Council regarding such compensation claims and if the bad weather meant that was becoming a bigger issue , and were told the number of claims are ‘a little above average compared to the Wales average’.

Cllr Bithell told us, “Obviously roads do crumble, and people do put claims in. The council do wherever possible do try and defend the council’s position. Unfortunately like any situation like this we do pay claims out, especially if it is justified. I don’t think we are the world’s worst at paying claims out, but hopefully this policy will bring us back in line.”

We noted the policy has a red / amber / green categorisation of potholes and other standard measurements, and often we get people in touch regarding potholes they have seen – or firmly encountered. It appears the council evaluate claims based on when they are aware of actionable defects, or have been alerted by members of the public after that point. We asked if the ongoing categorisation of roads will be public information / Open Data.

Cllr Bithell pointed that the policy and related information including inspection timescales would be public online, however there were no plans to publish regular updates to the state of Wrexham’s roads.

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