Tuesday, January 05, 2010

End The Gritting Postcode Lottery


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We seem to be in for another heavy snow storm with 10 inches or so reported to be falling in London suburbs tonight and tomorrow. There is a list of grit bins on the Sutton website. Local resident Adrian Short has done a great job in mapping them on Google Maps. The Council website also has the latest news on school opening.

However, the list and map does highlight a significant gap in emergency planning. The Council lists 150 grit bins available for a population of over 180,000 residents. This means that there is, on average, only one grit bin for every 1200 residents. To add insult to injury, some areas have only one grit bin available to local residents whereas others have over thirty. The list on the council website demonstrates that the grit bin situation has not been reviewed for at least 7 years with one described as being outside Tesco on Sutton High Street, which was closed in 2003 to make way for Asda.

The recent cold spell has exposed Sutton Council’s weaknesses in winter road maintenance, causing outrage with local taxpayers after poor gritting efforts left many residents stranded in their own homes because roads and pavements turned into untackled ice rinks. Many residents who were willing to grit their own roads – out of necessity - were dismayed to find grit bins either empty or unavailable in their area.

Google Maps shows that access to gritting bins varies significantly from Ward to Ward. For example, the Carshalton South and Clockhouse Ward is well serviced with 33 gritting bins whereas the Wallington North, Wandle Valley and Nonsuch Wards languish with only one gritting bin each. Conservatives are now calling for an end to Sutton’s ‘post code lottery’ access to grit bins and for better preparation for icy road conditions in the future.

This is not the first time that the Liberal Democrat-run Council has provoked controversy over its winter highways policies. Last year the ruling Liberal Democrats slashed the winter highways maintenance budget by £20,000 in March only to later spend £16,000 on a state-of-the-art air conditioning system for the Council Leader’s Office in July.

The past month has shown how woefully ill-prepared Sutton Council is for icy and snowy conditions. I don’t blame our hardworking gritting teams, I blame the political leadership of the Liberal Democrats for short-sighted cuts to the highways budget.

48 comments:

Cllr David Pickles said...

Paul - in a strange sort of way, I couldn't agree with you more. There are parts of my ward that have been woefully neglected, but on the whole it is very difficult, nigh on impossible for local councils to actually get it right, because the Met Office often don't. The spend on air-conditioning would obviously suit you as you aspire to lead the council, so will you rip it out and return the £16,000 it cost to the taxpayer? I think not. Trying to obtain votes by castigating this, and any other council, because of heavy snowfall, which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn't, at times that catches us all out, is, in my opinion, pretty cheap.

Scully said...

David

Don't worry about agreeing with me. It's not that strange and something I'm sure you can get used to if you give it a chance more often.

I agree that it is difficult for councils. The main complaint is that we simply don't have enough grit bins. This is something that can be rectified at any time and is not predicated on imminent snowfall. It is also something that is well overdue for a review.

As for the air conditioning, I make do with a £10 fan from Argos. If I was fortunate enough to be Leader, I don't expect to sit behind a desk all day anyway as my time will be better spent with people rather than paper. Ripping out air conditioning, new or otherwise, comes at a cost so that won't happen. I can't unspend the £16k.

Your last point misses the thrust of my argument which covers basic planning not a response to a single snowfall. It is also contrary to the view that you expressed to a resident living in your own road when you said last February that the lack of gritting was a "culmination of years of the Lib-Dems wasting your money (and mine) on things like Totem Poles, expensive bus stops, too many "non-jobs" at Civic Offices, prolific spending this severe downturn et al." Even I thought the Totem Pole was a bit of a stretch but there you go.

You seem to have become more accepting to the plight of the ruling party in the last 12 months over this. Could this be because you are keen for them to win as per Lord Pearson's new strategy? Fortunately for residents, Sutton's LibDems still have an opposition in the form of the Conservative Party.

Cllr David Pickles said...

Paul - nothing to do with wanting the Lib-Dems to win anything. A vote for UKIP as you and your party no doubt will like to portray it as a "wasted vote", is a vote for UKIP, nothing more, nothing less.

I think my point about gritting (or the lack of it) has been entirely vindicated today (Wednesday). The heavy overnight snow made some parts of the borough dangerous early this morning, at lunchtime our local roadsweeper (an excellent employee if ever there was one) was out gritting by hand and managed to do an awful lot in the time I was out there with him. Then at 3.15pm came a blizzard and the thawed snow promptly refroze and has another 2-3" on top of it.

Brighton Rd now (17.50) is one big jam-up and like a skating rink - yet the gritting teams were working like stink today. If we get the promised "exceptional blizzard" on Sat/Sun then no amount of gritting will suffice. As for totem poles and bus stops, I think you'll have to admit there wasn't anybody more vocal than me against the waste of money.

I'm not sticking up for the Lib-Dems by any means, but I think it a bit unfair to complain when the roads/pavements are dangerous when they have done the work. By all means, I'm right behind you when certain roads haven't been done, but I hear on the grapevine today there is becoming an acute shortage of grit/salt in London boroughs due to the severity of the weather in other parts.

Do you think we should ski to the next council meeting?

Scully said...

We've got a couple of days worth of grit left with some more due in if it can make it. There is a London-wide programme to share surplus stock.

My point about the totem poles is not who was most vocal about them but the fact that last snowfall, you blamed the slippery roads on the totem poles, this year you blame it on the weather. Nothing has changed, the gritting team have been working as hard as ever. What has changed is there is £20k less allocated this year to tackling the situation. This equates to 800 tonnes of grit. Yet you remain silent about the LibDem cuts instead worrying about whether I switch on the air conditioning in my office should I win the election.

I think residents would value your input being directed at the one party which makes decisions on their behalf at the moment which is the LibDems. Anything else leaves them grinning.

David G said...

Hear hear. No grit bins within appreciable distance of Anglesey Court Road/Gardens - two roads on a hill notorious for icing. I've been complaining about it for years. It's no good going on about 'unprecendented' amounts of snow - the council had last February to review response, last December to get it right and still failed. Perhaps the council should get forecasts from someone other than the Met Office who seem to be too concerned with making the case for global warming to enable them to do what we pay them for properly - predict the weather. I haven't see a street sweeper in weeks.

Cllr David Pickles said...

Well grin they might Paul, but I think the Tories have shown their true colours over the past year. In any case I see from recent figures that viewing and hits and comments on your blog have actually plunged over the past 6 months. Why?

Under Cameron the "Tories" are saying absolutely anything anywhere to garner a cheap vote. They are becoming more like the Lib-Dems by the day saying what people want to hear. In fact wasn't it Cameron who admitted before Christmas that there "isn't much difference between the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems"?

I think that UKIP are getting up ALL your noses - sad but real that that may be. I'm portrayed as a hard right-winger (which to some extent is correct), and it seems that UKIP members are hard right-wingers or nutcases according the "Tories". I wish your party could adapt a more broad approach such as we have. I think when you start canvassing you'll be mightily surprised, even shocked at the support we have, and due to the inbuilt arrogance of the "Tory" party who think they have a god-given right to win they are in for a shock, and I also think the only thing I could be accused of being bitter about with the "Tories" is the disgusting way they axed Margaret Thatcher 20 years ago - yes it still rankles not with me, but with hundreds of thousands of ex-tory voters. I would suggest if you want to sharpen up your profile and that of your party locally you should read Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday each week. See what he has to say about the "Tories".

The trust people had in them is now lost and you know as well as I that it will take a mountain to climb to get that trust back. By the way, that's why I've challenged Tim to a £100 winner take all bet as to Cameron not securing a working majority. I bet your'e praying for Brown to hang on because if he falls and Johnson (who I think is favourite to take over) gets the mantle, then Cameron and the "Tories" are toast.

Cllr David Pickles said...

As an aside - David G either lives in the wrong part of the borough, or he has Tory councillors who cannot get him a grit bin. If he cares to contact me, I'll make sure he has one pronto in his neighbourhood. It's not that difficult.

Belle Mont said...

There are parts of Belmont that have no grit bins, where it would involve a dangerous 1.5 mile round trip to get some rock salt. Maybe Cllr David Pickles wants to start working in his own area before criticising others.

David G said...

I have duly mailed Mr Pickles. Lets see what happens.

Cllr David Pickles said...

Belle Mont - feel free to e-mail as David G has done. I have secured many grit bins in the Belmont ward, as your ward councillor I can secure one for you too. Perhaps you have your head in the sand (pardon the pun) or feel that you don't want to contact me as I'm not one of your beloved "tories" anymore, but I can guarantee you action, unlike you Tory representatives.

Cllr David Pickles said...

Right - I've just seen the light. I take it then, that under the "Tories" (if they win council in 5 months time which I doubt) this will be the solemn "cast-iron" guarantee (similar to one given by Cameron some time back) the following will happen:-

"Every inch of road, be it side street or main highway, and every inch of pavement will be thoroughly gritted 24 hours per day and nobody within the borough will have to suffer the indignity of slipping on ice. Furthermore we will not only freeze the council tax but will cut it year on year by making sure that we spend it on grit every year. To add to that the civic offices car park will be closed and turned into a storage area for a minimum of 20 snow ploughs because main arteries like the Brighton Rd have a maximum of 6 inches of snow on them every 25 years or so, and it's imperative that we keep it clear".

Scully said...

David

Again you could have saved a few moments of your time by bothering to read the comments before puffing away like Frank Doberman. We need more grit bins and rock salt to help people help themselves. The Council needs to ensure that they can at least help people do the right thing. I'm glad that you joined us in this position.

Adrian Short said...

Paul, thanks for putting the map up. It certainly shows the value of having open data (about the grit bins) and in this case showing that data in a way that people can easily use and interpret.

All the council grit bins were refilled yesterday and I'm working on something that will make it much easier for people to report that a bin needs refilling and also much easier for the council to receive and handle those reports.

I do think that more grit bins are needed so that people can use the grit on their own streets. How many bins are needed, and where they go, and how they would be paid for, are harder questions to answer.

David, CB said...

The point Mr P is missing - and which Adrian has highlighted - is that residents shouldn't have to keep on asking for these grit bins to be put where they're needed.

Council tax is paid so that the council can run the borough's infrastructure properly. I'm all for residents interacting with the council, but with council data showing grit bins supposedly outside Tesco in Sutton (!) it is clear that Sutton Council has paid no attention to this aspect of its service, despite two of the heaviest snowfalls in living memory in the last ten months. And a short-sighted £20k budget cut.

While I enjoy Mr P's rants (and to be fair, sometimes valid points) there are occasions where the plot goes walkabout - and these occasions are becoming the norm.

David G said...

2" of snow in Carshalton last night (widely predicted and forecast) and no grit or salt on the roads - anywhere. Isn't it about time someone in the council was made accountable for their decisions ? Perhaps we should start witholding council tax until we get the service we have paid for.

Cllr David Pickles said...

Waaheeeey!!!!!! Here's one for the "hypocrisy" scrapbook. Tonight Evening Standard features the following short article:-

"Organised" grit thieves use online maps to locate salt bins.

COUNCIL chiefs today said that the theft of salt from bins was becoming organised.

Thieves are studying online maps of the bins and taking the reserves to sell on at inflated prices.

Councillor Paul Scully, leader of the Tories in Sutton, said "Stealing grit has become quite organised with people wanting to make a quick buck checking where the bins are on the internet and then turning up in trucks". It is thought that across London there is enough grit for another week if limited to main roads.

Howzat then! Cllr Scully laments the stealing of grit by organised gangs who are "studying internet maps", and then at the top of this thread he displays.........an internet map thereby aiding the very crooks he likes to castigate in search of "yet another" (tory favourite phrase) cheap vote.

You really couldn't make it up.

Keep up the good work Paul - at least it gives the local rozzers something do to instead of hounding motorists!

Adrian Short said...

I'm sure it's perfectly possible to be in favour of grit bin maps and against grit theft as it is to be in favour of shops and against shoplifting.

Scully said...

David

Glad to see your still reading the blog after your self-imposed exile. Technically it is closer to the election before you chose to comment again, albeit 24 hours or so.

I haven't seen the article in the Standard. There is certainly thieving of grit and even grit bins around London and anecdotal evidence points to people systematically going around the bins in a locality.

The maps are useful for residents. It would be a great shame to withhol important information for the majority in order to stop the mindless minority.

Not sure where the hypocrisy is. Grit map good, grit theft bad.

Anonymous said...

After a three hour walk home with walking stick and heart machjine to find my elderly neighbours performing a grotesque parody of Swan Lake on Ice attempting to get out of their gates, I asked the lead councillor why st helier was a grit free zone. I was told i was facile and that it was an insult to the hard working gritting teams! Smacks of hiding behind a pane of glass to me.

Cllr David Theobald said...

Ah, I'm not anonymous! its David! Hope you are well?

Cllr David Pickles said...

Fact remains - either show all and sundry where the bins are, or stop blaming it on the maps. Is this a classic "tory" case of having your cake and eating it?

Adrian Short said...

Cllr Pickles,

I'm really looking forward to your blog explaining how you are helping your constituents through the cold snap. I expect I'm not the only one.

Cllr David Pickles said...

And you are helping them Mr Short? And how? I suspect you are one of the "Tory" plants who spouts nonsense at every conceivable turn, just to protect your beloved leader. Kindly go to bed, it's well past horlicks time.

Cllr David Pickles said...

Oh, and as an aside, "Mr Short", kindly tell me how taking regular winter cruises also helps Belmont residents to keep out the cold?

Perhaps you could enlighten me, and then I might take some as well, instead of being here during the winter listening to my constituents problems. Please pass that on to whoever you think fit.

Adrian Short said...

Cllr Pickles,

Are you drunk? I suggested your time would be better spent explaining your own efforts on behalf of your constituents rather than picking holes in others'. It still would.

You can satisfy yourself regarding my identity if not necessarily my motives by the age-old technique of typing my name into Google. Mr Short without the quotation marks will be quite adequate.

As for what I've been doing to help, you can find one clue at the top of this page. If I'm not the toast of every low-down dastardly grit thief in south London, I soon will be. In fact I stole plenty myself and dumped it all over the pavements, crossings and bus stops on Stonecot Hill.

David B, CB said...

I think when they closed the mental hospitals in Banstead they accidentally left one inmate behind.

Cllr David Pickles said...

Very droll "David B". Pity you have to hide behind a mask. Maybe you could stand as a "Tory" in May. I believe they need all the help they can get.

David B, CB said...

I think everyone on this blog bar you knows who I am, Mr Pickled.

There is, in fact, far more knowledge of my identity than there is of yours and UKIP's policies.

Care to elaborate on those?

The Lord Pearson of Rannoch said...

On David Pickles' behalf, I will if you will permit, expose to your scrutiny the policies of the party which I lead, commonly known as 'UKIP', and I quote:

"Wibble."

Any further questions?

Cllr David Pickles said...

Idiots

David B, CB said...

I can only point you to an example UKIP blog, that of the seriously deranged Lord Monckton.

http://talking-clock.blogspot.com/2010/01/climategate-no-let-up-from-lord.html

You really should start your own blog Mr Pickled - after all, we wouldn't want anyone usurping your title as the most bitter, twisted, reactionary and vengeful UKIP member in the country, would we?

larry the gherkin said...

seems as though Ukip is unpleasant at all levels, Ukip's only gay MEP (Nikki Sinclaire) has resigned from their political party in Brussels because they have climbed into bed with racists, homophobes and antisemites from the continent with an Italian party called Lega Nord, whose prominent politicians have even endorsed violence against immigrants as a part of their fierce antiimmigration politics, including turning guns on Africans. nice people.

have a gander http://juniusonukip.blogspot.com/2010/01/nikki-sinclaires-resignation-letter.html

Isn't one judged by the company one keeps? given David Theobald's established views on the centre left and his professed ethics how comfortably does this sit?

David G said...

Gentlemen

As an 'outsider' - i.e. a mere resident, you have only to look at how this conversation has descended into tit-for-tat/he said/she said playground politics to realise why ordinary people are turning their backs on you.

I hold you equally to blame. Mr Pickles may be abrasive but that does not justify accusing him of being drunk. And as for calling Lord Monckton deranged - well - words fail me.

I would get a more mature conversation with a 5 year old.

Scully said...

David G.

I share your frustration that we can't just talk about the issues on this site. We have mud being thrown around rather than grit.

The latter part of this thread has been a conversation largely between Cllr Pickles and two residents from Stonecot and Carshalton, neither of whom are politicians; neither of whom are Conservative nor UKIP as far as I know. They have had some odd accusations thrown at them about winter cruises etc. Still if people want to let off steam here whilst I'm out and about then, as long as it is vaguely relevant and not offensive, it can stay. I've been fortunate that I have only had to use comment moderation sparingly when one of Cllr Pickles' colleagues got a little carried away.

I hope that we can keep things focused on the matters that affect us all otherwise the people that are failing the residents of this borough get away without challenge.

David B, CB said...

Apologies if anyone has overstepped the mark, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to elicit any comments regarding UKIP policy from David Pickles.

His sole intention on Paul's blog is - by his own admission - to attempt to destroy any chance the Conservatives have of winning in Sutton. I find such negatve politicking distasteful, especially when David appears to have absolutely nothing positive to say here, nor does he provide any explanations of UKIP policies when challenged for alternatives.

In the light of this, I think highlighting his complete lack of policies and his reliance for effect on denigrating others rather than suggesting a positive alternative is hardly unfair.

When I have posted on 'alternative conservative' blogs in the past, the vitriol aimed at me has been pungent, to say the least, for daring to suggest anything that differs from the blogger's accepted views.

I also believe that while the postings on here are often mischievous, they are all meant in good humour. All it takes to stick to the straight and narrow is straight answers from Mr Pickles rather than vengeful invective.

Adrian Short said...

David G,

I asked whether Cllr Pickles was drunk as his frankly bizarre behaviour seemed to have no other obvious explanation. I am not a member of a political party, I do not represent anyone other than myself in this context and I am not here in support of any partisan agenda or advantage.

I do take exception to anyone -- let alone elected councillors who are bound by a code of propriety and civility -- questioning my identity and motives long after any reasonable person would be quite satisfied of the true situation. I post here under my own name. My name is linked to my website which links to many other things about me. It's not that hard to find out who I am and where I stand on many things.

I have spent a great deal of time actually gritting streets recently and even more time producing the grit bins map and related software with the support and assistance of the council. Cllr Pickles, despite repeated prompting, has yet to disclose what he's been doing on behalf of his constituents or indeed what his policies on the issue may be.

Cllr Pickles gets paid to take this stuff seriously. I don't. Draw your own conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Well said Adrian. I would like to thank you for your map of the bins, I found it useful to find one near where I live but there was very little in it. Every little helps though.

It is also useful in exposing how few there are in the borough. The councillor on the you tube video said there is one bin for every 1200. That cannot service the needs of residents surely!

Cllr David Pickles said...

Adrian Short/David "B".

If you would both like to meet me for a drink sometime and a full and illuminating conversation, then I'm up for it. Over to you both.

Anonymous said...

David

whos paying?

David B, CB said...

Anytime Mr P! Bet I get drunk first.

Cllr David Pickles said...

I will consult my already busy diary and post further. The invitation is to David B and Adrian Short. I will buy the first round!

Cllr David Pickles said...

Well, Adrian Short. Still waiting for your comments on my lead letter in this week's Sutton Guardian. You and your "tory" mates got any good ideas? Thought not. Bereft of them, aside from spending public money "pledging" more grit bins. Bit of thought would achieve that without any cost at all to the local tax-payer. Still think they are the best thing since sliced bread now?

Adrian Short said...

Well, Cllr Pickles,

As I informed you and the rest of the world that might possibly care in this comment not half a screen up from where you are currently reading, I am not a member of any political party or here in support of any party. Please try to take this knowledge on board and act appropriately if that's at all possible.

I am very glad to hear you have written a letter to the Sutton Guardian. I hope it was better argued than your comments about capital punishment.

I rarely see the Sutton Guardian as it is not delivered in my neighbourhood (this is commonplace, I hear) but if you care to post it online I will read it.

You really should get your own blog. You always have plenty to say.

Cllr David Pickles said...

By the way folks, just under a week after David G e-mailing me, I had a brand new grit bin, complete with grit installed for him and his neighbours. Just thought I'd let you know here, seeing as he hasn't kept you all updated as he promised to. (How about trying some positive action yourselves Adrian Short and "Dominic", instead of sniping from the sidelines (especially "Dominic").

David B, CB said...

Crikey, Adrian, lucky we're not thirsty. Looks like that promise of a beer was as hollow as a UKIP policy...

Adrian Short said...

Cllr Pickles,

Your idea about sponsored grit bins in your Sutton Guardian letter is an interesting one. The problem, of course, is that you're thinking far too small.

The council should seek to attract a business that would become a "platinum partner", with co-branding and synergistic marketing opportunities across the whole range of Sutton's facilities and services. For example, signage at the borough boundaries could welcome people to "The ASDA London Borough of Sutton", with half the ground floor of Central Library set aside for a mini-supermarket on a profit share between the company and the council. There's a decent captive market just with the workers in Civic, let alone visitors.

Other businesses could take up sponsorship of individual services. An "edgy" campaign could warn residents, "Don't set foot in Nike's Sutton parks in any other shoe" while householders calling the council tax hotline could be offered a range of insurance services from Santander while they wait on hold. Sutton's libraries could be far more profitable and congenial places if they were run by Waterstone's, Amazon or -- thinking very different -- Apple.

Closer to home, councillors' allowances could be abolished in favour of direct sponsorship. Candidates for council without their own means would be encouraged to seek commercial partners for their election campaigns and to sustain them in office if elected. There's no reason in principle why sponsors' logos couldn't appear on the ballot paper alongside their candidates and tastefully-branded clothing permitted in council meetings. Perhaps the Haweli Indian restaurant in Belmont might consider it good value for money if you mentioned them every time you opened your mouth. You could double your current allowance and they'd be a household name within a month.

Of course, there's no chance that the current tax-and-tax-and-tax-and-spend "Liberal" council or the crypto-socialist "Tories" would dare attempt such a thing. But UKIP?

Cllr David Pickles said...

Yes - as I've said before Adrian. A many of many words. Most of them bollocks.

Michelle said...

The availability of grit bins must be ensured in each and every locality.