Councillor admits to facing calls to resign amid anger at travel disruption
The councillor in charge of Norfolk’s response to the bad weather was phoned at home on Tuesday night by people calling on him to resign amid anger at travel disruption caused by heavy snowfall.
Graham Plant, the cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, told a meeting at County Hall yesterday that he had taken telephone calls saying he should quit his post over the authority’s handling of the snowfall, which caused major problems in and around the county on Tuesday evening.
There were particular issues in Norwich where ice and snow on the roads brought traffic to a virtual standstill. Journeys that should have taken minutes, took hours.
But the council defended its record, saying it did all it could to deal with the heavy snowfall and the sudden drop in temperatures at Tuesday lunchtime.
Mr Plant said: “We do not see what more could have been done to improve the situation in what were exceptional circumstances. The snowstorm, widely described as a whiteout, was far heavier than anything forecast.”
Mike Jackson, director of planning and transportation at County Hall, said that, as in previous years, there would be a review of how the authority handled the issue, although he did not see what could have been done differently.
Gritters, sent out on Tuesday, soon found themselves caught up in the gridlock as driving conditions worsened.
The last time Norwich was hit by a blizzard on the same scale was in 2004 and a council report was drawn up in the aftermath listing recommendations to stop the ensuing traffic chaos happening again.
Recommendations made by council officers to Norwich Highways Agency Joint Committee at the time included:
• Spending £100,000 a year on providing more grit bins in the city
• Improving communication between the councils, police and the media
• A bigger police presence during heavy snowfall
• Councils receiving better weather forecasts
And The Eastern Daily Press was told yesterday that many of the recommendations had been introduced.
The number of gritting bins in the city has increased from 200 in 2004 to 285 now. In the rest of the county there were 205 grit bins in 1995 and 1,231 in 2011.
Better technology also means that weather forecasts are more detailed, helping the county council to decide when to send out the gritters. Gritters this year also have trackers on them so the fleet can be kept track of.
In 2003/04 £2.5m was spent on gritting and the budget for this year is £3.8m.
The county council also said its communication with the public had improved, largely thanks to social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Its school closure website had more than one million views on Tuesday and yesterday.
Police said they had no set strategy to deal with the snow but deployed officers as and when problems happen.
Head of operational planning, Chris Eldridge, said: “When we are aware in advance of adverse weather conditions, we take sensible precautions such as to inspect our 4x4 vehicles to ensure we can continue to deal with any incidents that occur around the county. We are part of the Norfolk Resilience Forum and are in regular contact with our partners and the public.”
Gordon Dean who was vice-chairman of the Norwich’s highways agency committee at the time of the report said the city had coped better yesterday than in 2004, but he added it was still ill-prepared to deal with the bad weather.
“I asked the officers to do the report to make sure ambulance, fire and the police could get around,” he said.
“I’m hoping that most of it was implemented but I think Norwich could have been better prepared on Tuesday. A lot still needs to be done.”
The vice-chairman of Norwich Highways Agency and the city council’s cabinet member for transport said enough lessons had not been learnt from 2004.
Councillor Bert Bremner said: “There are lessons here we can learn and I am going to ask city and county hall to see if there are possible solutions, that are cost-effective, remembering that we don’t want to waste money at any time, but have real cuts looming over us.”