STEVEN DOWNES on the entirely predictable panic over a bit of winter weather
Oh dear. Heavens knows how we would manage with really severe snowfalls and winter weather were we in Cologne or Katowicz. But we’re in Croydon, so yesterday evening, after barely half an hour’s sprinkling of snow, reports were coming in that traffic in the town centre had ground to a halt.
And so the blame game began. “Who will Tony Newman blame?” was one question posed via social media. Someone else asked: “Why hasn’t the council gritted the roads properly? It’s all so predictable.”
As indeed it is.
Even the council’s excuses about the lateness of its gritting operation were familiar from the last time the council failed to have the borough’s major thoroughfares gritted in advance of the arrival of snow and ice.
Transport for London was at it, too, claiming that one-hour delays on its buses were caused by “bad weather”.
But it was not “bad weather”; it was a dusting of snow, which lasted less than two hours and hardly settled on the busier roads – some of which TfL itself is responsible for maintenance and free-running.
It was not as if City Hall and Croydon Town Hall had not had plenty of warning. The weather forecasters had been saying “snow on Thursday for London and the south-east” since the weekend. By Wednesday, they even had the timing of the snow fall accurate to within half an hour – no Michael Fish moment here – saying from 5pm, and providing 24 hours’ notice.
This appeared to be open to a bit of interpretation by Croydon Council, though, who in a press release that was not issued until 4.45pm stated that “Gritting teams are poised”… note that, “poised“… “and ready for action ahead of plunging temperatures and snowfall forecast for Croydon tonight”.
The release also stated: “The Met Office issued a severe weather warning for snow yesterday, which is predicted to arrive in the borough from 6pm, coinciding with this evening’s rush hour.”
Maybe that sentence is a signal of the unreal world occupied by our council’s staff. For many in Croydon, the evening “rush hours” (plural, for it always lasts far longer than a mere hour) begin from soon after 3pm, as parents take to their cars, rather than insist that their children walk to and from school or take public transport.
But significantly the council press release was issued after the first flakes of snow had begun to fall, and it was claiming a forecast of snowfall one hour later than had been predicted.
With snow expected at 5pm in south London (according to the Met Office), Croydon Council’s fleet of road gritters was out on the roads only just before 4pm. And Croydon is a very large borough to cover with so few trucks.
By 6pm, roads up the hills into Old Coulsdon were blocked with heavy traffic. The town centre had quickly ground to a halt in the slush. Gravel Hill was blocked both ways (“just as always happens,” according to Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader).
The council’s press release thus only reinforced its usual ill-preparedness. Boasts about its stockpile of grit and 600 fully laden salt bins “to ensure Croydon keeps moving” made impressive reading, until set against the council’s performance.
“Nine gritting lorries are available on a 24-hour basis to treat the borough’s roads and keep the most important roads moving. These include A and B roads, main bus routes, hills and approaches to rail stations, schools, fire, ambulance and police stations. Footpaths around key transport hubs will also be gritted, along with some pavements serving local shopping areas.”
The rhetoric was good, the delivery poor. The borough did not “keep moving”.
Other agencies were similarly culpable. Network Rail, responsible for the management of East Croydon Station, failed to grit its shiny, and slippery, new platforms at one of south-east England’s busiest stations.
And despite the published promises, Croydon Council’s highways staff had not got round to gritting the pavements on the station approach and George Street, one of the busiest parts of the town centre, even by 7pm.
The official excuse for the late start by the gritting fleet was that it was raining, and this would wash away the grit. Which is the same excuse given the last time that there was a significant snowfall and the same gridlock occurred on our roads.
It is also the usual bollocks: road salt is delivered in that gritty form to give it a “stickability” to stay around overnight. It doesn’t just mysteriously vanish because of an hour or so’s steady rain. The ice-melting salt also lingers, so that when snow lands on it, if the grit is spread early enough, the snow is less likely to settle.
The problem here is not a political thing: our council has failed the public in the snow under a Conservative-run Town Hall just as much as they did yesterday evening when Labour were in charge. For some reason, the council’s senior management – as they showed on the night of the riots in 2011, and as they have demonstrated every time a snow flake has reached the ground within a mile of Fisher’s Folly over the past six years – simply cannot manage.
Other local authorities in countries where they really do endure some extreme winter weather, be it Canada, Germany or Poland, take these matters in their stride. But an hour’s snowfall here in England provokes full-on crisis mode. One large secondary school near Purley was closed today because the grounds were deemed to be “unsafe”, with black ice. Hardly the Blitz spirit, is it?
And we, the public, carry much responsibility, too.
There are far too many cars on the road, something particularly noticeable in Croydon, where the town centre is always susceptible to gridlock for the slightest reason.
And many of those cars are driven poorly or inconsiderately. Last night’s weather saw tailbacks and trams delayed not because of the snow, but because some drivers were blocking junctions in their rush to get from A to B.
Undoubtedly, some of those same drivers will have been complaining bitterly about the lack of gritting and the traffic chaos. So it’s definitely Theresa Maybe’s fault.
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