Weather, January 2010

This week the cold weather has continued to cause difficulties, as I know from many constituents.

We've seen disruption to schools, train services and bin collections, and power cuts in Storrington and West Chiltington.  In Steyning, meals on wheels volunteers struggled to get hot meals to elderly residents stranded in their homes.

In West Sussex every inch of snowfall creates a staggering 80,000 tonnes of snow to clear.  So the County Council prioritises the major roads and freely admits that they cannot grit all of the 2,567 miles of footways.

But they're not helped by the system.  After the snowfall last February, the Government was warned that we may run out of grit this winter.  But they told councils to keep only a six-day supply of salt and, just days before the snow hit, only took action when weather forecasts predicted a ten-day cold spell.   By then it was too late.

Now the Government has effectively nationalised the supply of salt and grit. They've set up a ‘salt cell' in Whitehall and told councils to cut salt use by more than the 25 per cent already agreed, whether or not they actually had any.

The result is that councils like West Sussex have been penalised even though they built up their stocks of salt in good time.  Effectively we're bailing out local authorities who weren't so well prepared.

It could be worse for Ministers.  I was in Dublin over the New Year and the pavements were lethal.  As the A&E departments filled up, it transpired that the minister responsible for gritting was on holiday in Malta.  When he finally decided to return home, he was stranded at the airport.

But I doubt that Ireland has to endure our ludicrous health and safety warnings that people might be sued if they clear the pavement outside their house.  What tosh.

I'd like to thank everyone who has been helping to deal with the conditions - volunteers, officials and the emergency services who as usual have done a fantastic job.

Michelle Taylor