Labour cuts and pastes Tory plans for a very bleak midwinter

Tough luck. That’s the message from Croydon Council if we have a bad winter.

As commuters battle their way home through what’s left of Hurricane Gonzalo, winter seems to be with us already. Snow and ice cannot be too far away…

Commuters risk serious injury on ice outside East Croydon Station during the winter of 2009-2010. Might something similar be in store this winter?

Commuters were at risk of serious injury on the thick ice outside East Croydon Station during the winter of 2009-2010. Might something similar be in store this winter?

However, if you live on a suburban road in the south of the borough or you are a pensioner prone to be unsteady on your pins on an icy pavement, don’t expect much help from your friendly council.

Under Section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, as amended in 2003, councils should ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice. A Code of Practice urges local highway authorities to produce, and formally approve and adopt, policies and priorities for winter service.

On Monday night, the council’s cabinet meeting, without much of a discussion or debate, nodded through a winter maintenance operation plan in which, even before the clocks go back, they pretty much said that Croydon won’t be able to cope with icy conditions this winter.

In the winter “service” plan, the council states, “The policy recognises that given the scale of financial and other resources involved in delivering the Winter Service, it is not practically possible to provide the service on all parts of the highway network, neither is it possible to satisfy the requirements of all those wishing to use the highway.”

You can see the document in full here: Winter_maintenance_operation_plan

It seems that for the now Labour-run council, it’s really all too much of an effort to get the streets made safe in winter. Either that, or Kathy Bee, Labour’s cabinet member responsible, has checked a bit of seaweed in her garden and is confident we will be fortunate to have a mild winter.

Not that the Tories on the opposite side of the Town Hall chamber had much to say in criticism last night, because this latest policy from Labour is the latest piece of cut and paste from old council documents – their own council documents. In early 2009, the then Conservative-run council issued a remarkably similar-looking paper which said, “… this policy recognises that given the scale of financial and other resources involved in delivering the Winter Service, it is not practically possible to provide the service on all parts of the highway network, neither is it possible to satisfy the requirements of all those wishing to use the highway.”

Spot the difference? No, we didn’t, either. There isn’t any.

Inside Croydon’s loyal reader should remember the winter of 2009-2010 quite well, because that’s when a cold snap saw the borough’s roads come to a grinding halt for a number of days and town centre pavements appeared to have been left as ice rinks for pedestrians to slide over on their way to and from work. The pavements at East Croydon Station were not cleared of ice for days on end, such was the incompetence exhibited, while major junctions such as Fiveways and Purley Cross came to a grinding halt.

Working overtime was the council’s press office, which took to social media at the time to assure the public that the gritters were out across the borough – something that was strongly contested at the time. It was all intended to try to spare the blushes of the Tory cabinet member responsible, Phil Thomas.

Pedestrian accidents and injuries soared. For example, around three times as many casualties with fractures, dislocations and sprains were admitted to Mayday Hospital’s accident and emergency department on December 21, 2009, compared to an equivalent non-icy Monday in 2008. Thanks for that, Phil!

Senior citizens in Shirley had to be looked after by neighbours for weeks as it was too treacherous on the street ice. Some older people nearly ran out of food when they were trapped in their homes for days on end.

Similar scenes were played out in November 2010 and January 2013, as the council was either slow to respond or just ill-equipped to deal with what was basically predictable, English winter weather conditions.

Commuters were left stranded by rail cancellations at East Croydon Station

Commuters were left stranded by rail cancellations at East Croydon Station during the last cold snap of winter weather

With the same policy in place this year, there’s no reason not to expect the same results once the winter weather sets in.

Croydon Council would do well to look at the controversial policy that Durham County Council and the NHS County Durham Primary Care Trust took up from that bad winter in 2009 through to the winter of 2010-2011, with the provision of £1 million over two years from the local NHS for additional winter maintenance budget.

The then Primary Care Trust funding stream was made available in both 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 to cover the revenue and capital costs of additional routes, and was allocated to the provision of extra trailer gritters, footway snow clearance plant and more salt boxes.

Of course, PCTs were abolished in the Tories’ hugely expensive NHS reorganisation under Peter Lansley, in what a Conservative minister admitted last week has been the worst mistake of the government, producing plans that were “unintelligible gobbledygook”.

Snow joke: what the council claimed to be "well gritted" roads of Croydon in the snow, Nov 30, 2010, at the junction of Park Lane and Coombe Road

Snow joke: what the council claimed to be “well gritted” roads of Croydon in the snow, Nov 30, 2010, at the junction of Park Lane and Coombe Road

The intention of the Durham PCT winter funding was an attempt at joined-up government to save money by cutting the number of accidents, which for some elderly were life-changing in terms of their loss of mobility and independence, with all the expensive extra care costs that then fell upon the NHS and council social services.

Perhaps Croydon’s cabinet member for highways could speak to her cabinet colleague counterpart who looks after adult services and to the Mayday hospital board and to the local Clinical Commissioning Group to develop such an approach?

Unfortunately in Croydon, it seems that the £43,339 cabinet member “allowances” only pays for cut-and-paste, rather than innovative policy making.

Of course, after many privitisations of services under Mike “#WadGate” Fisher’s Tories, the council no longer has a big direct labour organisation to call upon to clear street snow in the event of blizzards. Perhaps the Labour group should start planning to change this by bringing the waste contract with Veolia back under its own control?

And if the council truly thinks that it can’t cope with making its streets safe in winter, perhaps it should look at Labour’s “One Nation” ethos or the Conservatives “Big Society” approach and create a Croydon version of the American, German, Austrian and Dutch residents’ self-help duty to clear pavements outside a property.

Among all its various slogans and T-shirts, Labour is supposedly “Ambitious for Croydon”, so maybe there could there be a Labour ambition to create volunteer street champions who look to keep the treacherous ice and snow off local pavements, rather than just waiting for the council to do nothing at all.


Coming to Croydon


  • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

Advertisements

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Community associations, Commuting, Croydon Council, East Croydon, Environment, Health, Kathy Bee, Mayday Hospital, Purley Way, Transport and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply