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Coping with the big freeze

PUBLISHED: 12:45 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:35 02 July 2010

Nigel Carter of City Farm Shop says sprouts and parsnip crops will benefit from the cold weather. Photo: Adrian Judd

Nigel Carter of City Farm Shop says sprouts and parsnip crops will benefit from the cold weather. Photo: Adrian Judd

Sam Williams

From mushy cauliflowers to burst water pipes and cancelled deliveries, the big freeze has had a far reaching impact on the region. But businesses in the city have pulled out the stops to ensure they can get their services to customers.

From mushy cauliflowers to burst water pipes and cancelled deliveries, the big freeze has had a far reaching impact on the region. But businesses in the city have pulled out the stops to ensure they can get their services to customers. SAM WILLIAMS reports.

Mushy cauliflowers - but county could benefit from sweet sprouts

The county's cauliflowers may have turned to mush - but vegetable lovers are in store for an especially sweet crop of parsnips and Brussels sprouts in the coming weeks helped by the freezing conditions.

While fields of cauliflowers have been destroyed by the sub-zero temperatures, the weather has been ideal for improving the sweetness of parsnips and sprouts, according to Nigel Carter, owner of City Farm Shop at Nottcuts, Daniels Road, Norwich.

And despite disruption to food supplies across the country, Mr Carter said local suppliers had made the extra effort to ensure deliveries arrive to restock the shelves, and producers had taken what chances they had to harvest their crops.

Mr Carter said the shop - which stocks many locally farmed fruit, vegetables and meat - had a near full range of seasonal foods in stock, with cauliflowers an exception.

But customers had been in shorter supply than usual, he added, with many not daring to venture out in the hazardous conditions.

“All of our local suppliers have pulled out all the stops and managed to deliver to us, and I can't think of any that have not made it,” he said.

“When they have been able to lift the vegetables they have done, and overall we have had no problems.

“The only difficulty has been customers getting in to us. We have a large customer base in the Golden Triangle and Newmarket Road areas, and the roads have been so treacherous that a lot of elderly customers haven't attempted to go out, quite rightly.

“Although we have had supplies we have not always had the shoppers.”

He said while last week it had not proved possible to lift parsnips, leeks had already been picked, and one organic carrot supplier had protected his crop with straw, enabling them to be delivered as normal.

He added: “Although the ground is frozen deep down we are optimistic we will be able to get the leeks and parsnips out soon.

“With this thaw I am quite hopeful that all our stocks will be replenished and we are expecting a fresh delivery on Wednesday.

“Cauliflowers are the only major vegetable that has been in short supply, as they turn brown in the frost.

“The price has gone through the roof. You can't get them locally so they are being imported from Spain, and are coming to us through wholesalers at £1.50 to £1.75 each.

“But the frost improves sprouts and parsnips and sweetens them up, so they are really at their peak now.”

Hauliers brave the icy conditions

While most motorists were tucked up at home in the worst of the recent snow, some city hauliers were braving the conditions in an attempt to get important deliveries to their destinations.

Although many haulage firms chose to cancel all orders in the freezing conditions, some deliveries were sent out each day by Sprint Xpress, which has a fleet of 16 heavy goods vehicles and vans near Norwich International Airport.

Director Sarah Coulthard said: “It has been difficult. Last Friday was the worst. We did attempt some deliveries and had one or two little prangs but the conditions were too bad for most.

“Most of the deliveries we made were in HGVs, which can hold their own in the conditions better than our vans.

A lot of companies have said they are not doing any deliveries, but we have tried and we have delivered every night last week.

“I have advised our drivers to keep three cars' distance from other traffic, not to do anything silly or be a hero, and just to be safe and be careful.

“If they can't deliver today there is always tomorrow.”

But Ms Coulthard said the bad weather had hit business, with fewer deliveries of retail goods, such as consumer electronics, as fewer shoppers were venturing out to shops to place deliveries.

She added: “The weather has definitely hit trade. It is normal for deliveries to be down at this time of year, but it has been 20pc down on what we would normally expect, but it is better now than it was last week, and I think things will start to pick up now.”

Freezing conditions could cause surge of burst pipes

The cold weather may have caused chaos on the roads, but it is also posing a major problem underground.

Water firm Anglian Water says earth movements associated with the freezing conditions have been responsible for hundreds of burst pipes, and engineers are working around the clock to carry out repairs.

While the company fixes an average of 13 burst pipes a day across the region, costing £15m a year, that number is expected to double in January, and December 29 saw a high of 76 reports.

And the company said worse is set to come when warmer weather returns, expected to be at the weekend, melting the ice and causing more ground movement.

Bosses have called on members of the public to report any leakages they spot, but said it may take time for the repairs to be completed, with priority currently being given to leaks in urban areas where ice could be a hazard to pedestrians.

While the company has replaced almost 3,000 miles of pipes with new plastic ones which can bend without breaking, much of the network is older and not capable of withstanding ground movements.

A spokesman said: “We have had a big increase in bursts and we expect the situation to get even worse next week.

“We have people out there 24-hours-a-day, and when the thaw comes that's when we are predicting a lot more.

“We are re-prioritising the repairs. Usually we repair the ones losing the largest amount of water but because of the freezing conditions when some pipes in houses burst the water is going to turn to ice.

“We ask everyone to report burst pipes as soon as possible but to please bear in mind that it might take longer for us to get to them. We have got everybody available working on it.”

t Anyone who spots a burst main is asked to call 0800 771881.

Curry helps diners stay warm

New Year diets appear to have gone out of the window as shoppers have turned to curries to help keep warm in the cold weather.

Supermarket giant Tesco has reported record sales of chicken tikka masala meals, selling 200,000 a day - up about 40pc on normal sales on cold winter days.

But it was not clear if Indian restaurants in the region had also benefited.

Alam Ahmed, owner of Dilraj restaurant in Loddon, said: “January is a quiet month for us anyway, but it has not been bad for us. But I don't know if people are eating curry because they want to feel warm.”

Tesco said apple crumble and custard sales were also up 35pc on last year.

Senior convenience foods buyer Simon Williams said: “Many Brits will probably have started the year with the best intentions of dieting but no one expected the worst winter for half a century.

“As a result Brits have simply gone curry crazy and created an all time record demand for chicken tikka masala in order to put some fire into their bellies with which to fight off the bitter cold.”

Advice for businesses

Insurance broker Marsh has issued advice to businesses on sustaining normal operations in frozen Britain.

The company - which has an office in Queen's Road, Norwich - is the world's biggest insurance broker and risk adviser has issued the following advice:

Physical assets

Check all heating units for reliable operation and ensure that building insulation is in place, windows are not broken and openings are sealed.

Regularly check power and telephone cables for build-up of ice and plan a safe method to remove it.

Provide fire hydrants, sprinkler valves and fire brigade sprinkler connections with markers visible above potential snow piles.

Protect water pipes, especially where they run outside or through unheated areas and disconnect and drain pipes in areas likely to freeze, if possible.

Clean all roof gutters and down pipes ensuring they are free from obstruction.

If portable heaters are required, ensure they are adequately maintained, staff are trained to use them safely and that fire risk assessments are updated to reflect the additional hazard.

Ensure sprinkler systems are maintained and alternate systems are drained, and ensure sprinkler pump houses are adequately heated.

Vehicles

Check tyre, battery and wiper blade conditions on all company vehicles; and ensure that lights are fully functioning and oil and fuel levels are sufficient for each journey.

If warming vehicles up do not leave them unattended with the keys in the ignition. Many cars are stolen this way by opportunist thieves each year.

Make sure that cars are equipped with a shovel, de-icer, warm clothing and blankets, food and a flask of hot drink and a fully-charged mobile phone.

Adapt your driving style to the conditions.

Business continuity

Review your Business Continuity Plan and consider how you'll best be able to service your customers, suppliers and key stakeholders if your business is disrupted.

Advise your customers and suppliers of any problems as soon as possible.

Make sure you have up to date contact details for all staff and people you may need to contact, e.g. insurance company, emergency plumber and electrician.

Encourage key staff to plan their continued availability for work in the event that their usual route is disrupted.

Work with your IT provision to enable staff to work from home if appropriate.

Review any possibilities for the temporary switching of some activities to other sites that may be less impacted and/or who have suitably experienced staff available.

Ensure that HR policies for dealing with temporary staff absences are in place and well understood.

Make sure that only essential business travel continues between sites and wherever possible arrange meetings via teleconference facilities instead.

Provide regular updates to staff and any other impacted stakeholders.

Arrangements should be made for access routes to be inspected regularly. Temporary signs denoting safe routes may be necessary.

Health and safety

Identify outdoor areas most likely to be affected by ice e.g. building entrances, car parks, pedestrian walkways, shortcuts, sloped areas and areas constantly in the shade or wet.

Put procedures in place to prevent an icy surface forming and/or keep employees and pedestrians off the slippery surface.

For employees who have to work outside or work in unheated buildings ensure simple controls are implemented.

Warm waterproof clothing and hot drinks are provided, employees take regular breaks, ensure job rotation is in place.

Where homeworking will not unduly affect business efficiency, sanction this to avoid unnecessary travel (but provide guidance on health and safety for homeworkers).

Ensure all traffic and travel routes on your site are kept clear of snow and ice and provide a stock of salt or grit for keeping paths and traffic routes free of snow and ice.

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