Bristol’s Big Freeze: Snow joke in St. Paul’s – council abandons inner city Bristol (again)

I see that Councillor Jon Rogers (Executive Member, Transport & Sustainability) has been getting stuck into tackling ungritted pavements in Bristol. He spent forty minutes last night with local blogger Chris Hutt, gritting footpaths around Queen’s Road.

That’s Queen’s Road. In Clifton.

I look forward to seeing Councillor Jon Rogers (Ashley Ward) doing the same in St. Paul’s in the near future. Because the council he helps lead certainly doesn’t look like getting down to it anytime this side of summer.

Meow! What’s prompted this rather uncharitable assessment of Cllr Rogers’ Blitz-style, everyone-pitch-in-together gesture?

Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you…

You could be mistaken for thinking that Britain had been visited by the horsemen of the Apocalypse judging by the institutional paralysis that the recent snow visited across our fair isles has caused. The failure of local authorities to adequately prepare for what has been, in all honesty, a fairly mild few days of snow and frost is both sadly expected and wholly needless. The weather was predicted accurately, the UK is a socially advanced state with a multi-layered and complex infrastructure, and the resources to deal with any big freeze are available.

But then the capacity to deal with a problem is no guarantee that the problem will be dealt with, certainly not in Bristol.

The snow began before Christmas, and then eased off. Gritting took place in the mornings, and Bristol rumbled on. Come the 5th January, though, and the people whom we pay to run our city on our behalf failed us. The snow began light, but continued through the day. It then continued through the night, heavier and heavier. We awoke on Wednesday morning to a chocolate box cover, a twinkly cityscape beneath a fluffy white blanket. It looked beautiful; it was not to last. There had been no widespread gritting this time, so roads had quickly become impassable. Bus services across the entire city were cancelled. Schools and workplaces were forced to shut down. Things ground to a halt.

A little personal side: I visited my parents in their small village over Christmas. They told me of similar inertia on the part of their own local council. The whole village had been ignored by gritting lorries, so my father rang up the council. ‘Why hasn’t our village been gritted?’ ‘We’re prioritising main roads, sir,’ came the reply. ‘But there’s a main road through the village!’ ‘I mean bus routes, sir.’ ‘But there are two bus services that use this road!’ ‘Ah, I mean main bus routes, sir.’ Or, to decode the municipal gentility, ‘Fuck you, prole – we’ll grit where the fuck we want.’

I live in St. Paul’s, which is in Ashley Ward. We’re not important enough to be gritted. I mean, sure, Stokes Croft has been gritted, leading up to Cheltenham Road and the Gloucester Road – a main artery into and out of the city. But what about the Frontline – Grosvenor Road and Wilder Street – which links the Easton end of the neighborhood with the city centre end? Nada. The same with Portland and Brunswick Squares, which are our interfaces with Cabot Circus and Broadmead. And you can definitely forget any of the side roads, the residential streets zigzagging across our densely packed ends.

Now, fair enough, priorities have to be made. I can understand that there are primary routes which need to be kept open before other roads can be dealt with. But the whole of St. Paul’s has – again – been ignored, and regardless of the potential for catastrophic accidents.

For example, the corner of Cave Street and Wilder Street. Cave Street leads off Portland Square, and gives way to Wilder Street. It inclines down onto Wilder Street, and visibility is restricted by Balloon Court to the north and Cave Court to the south. The junction has (obviously) not been gritted, and is now a dangerously slippery ice rink. All day long since Wednesday cars, vans and trucks have been caught out by the conditions on that junction, many sliding right across the road, some spinning out completely, often only narrowly avoiding other vehicles or – even more frighteningly – pedestrians. At least one car has slid across the entire width of Wilder Street and crashed into the fence enclosing the car park opposite. And let’s not even get onto the subject of pavements – because the council certainly hasn’t. I’ve lost count of how many people have fallen flat on their arses on the corners of Wilder Street and Brunswick and Cave Streets.

It seems that it is only going to be a matter of time before someone is seriously injured in St. Paul’s – or worse. Much worse.

So, because it seems unlikely that Bristol City Council will get round to protecting local people by gritting in St. Paul’s, I’ve been getting on with it myself. This afternoon after work I made a start, taking two hours to drag back four bin loads of salt from the grit store opposite McDonald’s, which seems to be the nearest to us (obviously, there are no grit bins actually in St. Paul’s*). There is now a rudimentary path on the eastern pavement of Wilder Street between Cave Street and the entrance to Cave Court flats, a well-gritted corner on Brunswick Street, as well as other patches through the ice across the mouth of Brunswick Street, at the entrance to the cemetery and on the path between Bond Street and Brunswick Square.

Passersby were keen to pass on their opinions of the council and its policy (or lack thereof) on gritting as I was doing this. One particularly angry local man walking back into St. Paul’s with his family talked of big public meetings, liability for preventable accidents, putting politicians out of office and those kinds of thing. He was particularly unimpressed that our local councillor was out gritting in Clifton whilst St. Paul’s people slipped on untreated pavements and roads. As we were talking his son slipped flat on his back trying to negotiate a particularly icy corner of Brunswick Square.

With an absentee, race jibe councillor on the one hand, and another, Clifton-preferring councillor on the other, one wonders what it would take for St. Paul’s to get noticed by its own representatives. I suspect that Jon Rogers’ new Facebook page will not be what local residents are looking for.

* Don’t believe me? Then check out this map of grit bins in relationship to St. Paul’s. It’s based on the Bristol City Council’s own map of grit bins across the city, and St. Paul’s Unlimited Partnership’s map of St. Paul’s.

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22 responses to “Bristol’s Big Freeze: Snow joke in St. Paul’s – council abandons inner city Bristol (again)

  1. Evening Bristle

    Thanks for your comments and well done on your efforts.

    I am happy to come to Wilder Street and help out too. I am passionate about all parts of my ward, and helping out people on the spur of the moment last night in Queens Road does not imply differently.

    Interesting observation on the grit bins or absence of grit bins. There are other lacunae around the city. I am keen that information held by the council is published wherever possible so people can do exactly what you re doing.

    I have been councillor for over 4 years, and the first requests I have had for extra grit bins have been in the last couple of days, and we will be reviewing it.

    I am also aware that I can only do what I can do. My contributions to this city of ours are just 1 400 thousandth of the total contributions of our residents.

    Give me a call if you want to talk 0117 914 2558

    Best wishes

    Jon

  2. I think you’re being unfair on Jon Rogers. He came over to help in Clifton because I’d made a big fuss about a particularly dangerous spot where people really were falling like nine pins.

    I’m more than happy to come over to St Paul’s and lend a hand to reciprocate, just so there’s no sense of injustice. Besides I like to think that the publicity I’ve generated about the neglect of pavements will benefit all areas of Bristol in due course.

    The real culprits here are the council officers who are supposed to organise for such events as snow. In fact Cllr Charlie Bolton submitted a petition to the Council on this subject early last year which seems to have got sat on and ignored. – http://charlie-boltons-southville-blog.blogspot.com/2010/01/icy-paths.html

  3. Whilst I appreciate your council bashing principles and I too noticed the irony of an Ashley councillor gritting the paths in Clifton, surely you’re pushing it here:

    The area highlighted in your map is pretty flat, whereas the area to the North is not. Nor is the area to the West. Surely this goes a long way to explain the difference in the number of grit bins?

  4. Cheers for your responses.

    Yes, clearly this was a provocative post, but the fact remains that St. Paul’s is repeatedly overlooked for basic council services – be it gritting, parking management, street cleaning, drain clearance or anything else. The only thing that gets anything done is nagging, complaining, ridiculing.

    Tonight it is snowing once more. The temperature will drop considerably. The Cave Street/Wilder Street junction (just one of many untreated junctions in the area) has not been gritted, and presents a serious threat to human life.

    This is not about council-bashing, it is about bringing into focus the very real problems we are facing in St. Paul’s, and across Bristol. That an Ashley councillor helped de-ice pavements in Clifton is not a problem, but it certainly provides a half-reasonable metaphor for how the two parts of the city are treated by the council.

    MikeT – yes, St. Paul’s is by and large a flat area. But there are inclines at junctions, and when there is thick ice coating the road, vehicles approaching them even at a crawl can spin out with alarming speed. I have seen a crash, I have seen near-crashes between vehicles, I have seen near collisions between vehicles and pedestrians. The flatness of our neighbourhood does not mean there is not a considerable risk of serious injury or worse.

    With regards the distribution of the bins across the city, it matters not to people in one under-resourced part of town that there is, elsewhere, another under-resourced pocket. What matters is that we are under-resourced! We’re not competing for a badge of honour, we just want what we need – and what we’ve paid for.

    Jon: Of course your work as councillor is appreciated – but you are a senior member of the ruling group on the council, and you bear a degree of personal responsibility for how the whole city, and for how your ward in particular, is faring in this freeze. Yes, you are hard-working; yes, you seem like a decent chap with your heart in the right place; yes, you seem sincere in your desire to make things work. But try telling that to local St. Paul’s people who feel abandoned by your council. Tell it to that angry man whose son slipped over.

    Chris: You say “The real culprits here are the council officers who are supposed to organise for such events as snow.” You may well be right about this. I hope Jon can tell us exactly why so much of Bristol has been shut down by this (predictable and predicted) weather. And your offers (Jon and Chris) of help are most generous. I suspect, though, that you will each need to save your energies over coming days for your own streets, because the ice will be getting worse, and the council will not be dealing with it. Unless I am mistaken on that…

  5. I don’t think the Council necessarily give any more attention to Clifton. In fact many here feel that we get less attention because we’re considered less in need (which is sometimes but not always true).

    What is probably true is that Clifton and other areas of the old Bristol West constituency have a higher proportion of articulate people who make it their business to press the Council to deal with problems and that must surely have an effect.

    But you’re doing a good job for St Paul’s. If you’re planning to do any more snow/ice clearing let me know and I’ll pop over to help if I can. It’s not at all unpleasant if you’re working with others. As Jon says there are 400,000 of us in Bristol who could clear all the snow/ice in an hour or so, if we could summon up a little generosity of spirit.

  6. I regularly visit different areas of the city – both rich and poor – and have observed the different conditions in each. I am particularly disgusted the Council have overlooked the hilly pavements of Bedminster. It is a clear lack of respect for a population who arguably have their roots in the industrial heritage and making of this city. There is also a high percentage of elderly people who clearly can’t even make it to their local shops. I’m a fit adult in my forties and I had enough trouble slipping and sliding on the ice. I can’t think how frightening this must be for the less able. It was bad enough before Christmas, but for the Council to be even less prepared for the recent snow fall and temperatures is outrageous, and I doubt we will see any improvement over the predicted persistent conditions.

    There was some interesting chatter on BBC Radio Bristol about liability for accidents. Essentially, if a property owner clears their path and someone has an accident the owner is liable, whereas if they left the path snowed over they are not liable. I suppose this may be because people clear the snow and ice in different ways and can actually make surfaces more dangerous, or that property owners can not be legally blamed for natural weather conditions.
    Could this be a factor in the Council avoiding any half-hearted attempts at clearing surfaces (due to the usual lack of resources) as they could be blamed for not doing their job properly, and should accidents occur be on the receiving end of numerous claims.
    BUT… how difficult can it be for city planners to order enough grit?

    Personally, I like the chaos the snow brings, not simply for its beauty but as it reminds us of our vulnerability as people.

    p.s. Glenfrome Road didn’t appear to be gritted on Wednesday night (6th Dec) and I would like to confirm our fears in the ongoing failing system at having overheard a bunch of council workers discussing their own confusions and frustrations.

  7. Morning BristleKRS

    Thanks again for the comments and feedback.

    I think all areas of the city can feel “hard done by”. I can assure you that St Pauls is not last…

    This morning twitter from @HypnoSharon

    “Pleasantly surprised to see our large bins on an icy side road in BS2 collected today. Well done guys.”

    I presume that they can do BS2 because it is relatively flat.

    I do separate my portfolio responsibilities from my ward councillor responsibilities. IMO it would be very dubious if I was to use my cabinet position to favour my own ward!

    Jon

  8. The big issue now is the salt/grit supplies running out, which looks like it could happen on Monday, unless we get more supplies.

    The forecast for Bristol is light snow showers continuing into the middle of next week with sub zero temperatures through all the nights. There may be a slight thaw during the days but as the water refreezes at night this could make matters worse.

    Ultimately there may be no alternative but labour intensive manual removal of compacted ice. Time for us all to realise that sometimes we need to act collectively.

  9. Martyn points out that “There was some interesting chatter on BBC Radio Bristol about liability for accidents. Essentially, if a property owner clears their path and someone has an accident the owner is liable, whereas if they left the path snowed over they are not liable.

    This is an urban myth. It is all part of the increasing tendency to try and isolate each of us from each other, behind a wall of fear.

    The key word is “reasonable”. If you are making reasonable efforts to clear snow and make path safer, then it would be ridiculous that you could be liable.

    When Chris Hutt and I talked before I walked over to Clifton on Thursday night, he raised the issue of whether we could be liable for gritting the pavement and road if someone fell. It is an urban myth.

    I guess if someone was to wilfully pour water down a path to make say a faster sledging route, then that might be deemed “unreasonable” and there might be a liability, but I argue that is quite different from simply clearing the path outside your house.

    Locally we seem to be adopting a “clear half the path” protocol, so that if the cleared stuff ends up icier than the snow and ice side, then people have a choice.

    I have also (on a personal basis, not as exec member) advocated walking in the road. It can be safer than on the pavement, particularly where gritted, and road traffic should be driving with great care and attention in these conditions.

  10. thebristolblogger

    The fact St Pauls is flat has nothing to do with it. Hilly Totterdown has no grit and lethal iced-up pavements. Bristol City Council have done nothing.

    It’s all well and good saying act collectively but where’s the grit? Where’s the tools?

    BCC has 30,000 employees, vehicles, tools and grit. They’ve seen the weather forecasts, why haven’t they acted?

    All non-essential staff should have been out since Wednesday clearing pavements in communities – not shopping centres!

    Small amounts of grit should have been supplied all over the city. The council should have publicised this through the media, internet etc.

    Then we could act collectively and clear our pavements.

    At present, looking at the weather forecast, a small problem is on the verge of becoming a big problem, if not a crisis.

    Where’s the leadership? Where’s the thinking? Where’s the planning?

    It’s impossible for many of us to get around the city. We can’t get to supermarkets and it’s dangerous to walk to work. This is fine for a few days but if it drags into next week …

    And the official council response? The copper whining yesterday about running out of grit. Not even an acknowledgment of the problems we’re facing, let alone any proposals or solutions.

    It’s not good enough. Heads should roll for this. The council’s planners and strategists aren’t up to it.

  11. Jon- Actually, there was a legal expert on the radio who clarified this. Perhaps you should check this with your legal department and then get back to us with a definitive response.

    Anyway, you prompt me to pose the more direct question: Are BCC purposefully avoiding gritting in order to avoid any potential compensation claims?

    I ask this as I know the Council avoid taking action on other matters in order to limit unneccessary public spending on court cases.

    I used the path which was cleared through Millenium Square last night, but it was actually more slippery than walking on the snow! I’m not being pedantic here, or putting you into a double bind (whether to clear or not), but raise the issue that the council should KNOW the best way to deal with the situation. That’s what citizens pay taxes for, isn’t it? So far, it all looks very haphazzard to me.

  12. The legal risk of liability is strictly theoretical – and no lawyer is going to be able to say no-one will ever sue you, because that is too unequivocal for the law. Anyone can make a claim about anything, and ultimately only a judge can make the decision on liability.

    *However for this theoretical action to be successful the imaginary claimant would have to show that you acted maliciously or carelessly.* (Source: Paul Kitson, from solicitors Russell Jones & Walker quoted here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8443745.stm)

    So in summary this is a nonsense – if you can, you should clear the pavement in front of your house. If some idiot sues then it is up to them to prove that you acted as above – not for you to prove that you didn’t.

  13. Loathe as I am to support a councillor, Mr Rogers is correct- it is a myth that the public can be sued for clearing paths. There is no law. There are no cases. There is no basis for liability. No lawyer would take on such a case. No one ever has. It s a Myth.

    The Council however are under a legal obligation (Highway’s Act 1980, s.41) to keep the highways safe from snow and ice. The highway includes the carriageway and the footway.

    If the Council is arguing that it can’t clear snow and ice for fear of litigation, then the council is grossly wrong and contradicting their statutory duty.

    I expect the Council will be sued for injuries caused by failing to clear footways. They failed to act at all until yesterday and are in gross breach of duty.

    If the Council are avoiding

  14. Pingback: #gritforbristol « The Bristol Blogger

  15. thebristolblogger

    Anyway, you prompt me to pose the more direct question: Are BCC purposefully avoiding gritting in order to avoid any potential compensation claims?

    Yes. They’ve said just that in the Evening Post.

  16. Yes, BB has identified the incriminating evidence from their own mouths. Bristol City Council have instructed employees NOT to clear or treat slippery paths. Was the same instruction given more widely, in respect of public highways for example?

  17. thebristolblogger

    As we’re not getting straight answers, let’s try FoI:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/gritting#incoming-64338

  18. I was out clearing some of my road yesterday, ice axe to break and scrape the ice, shovel to put in the gutter. Its hard work -I would have been better off doing it before it turned to ice. Still a good opportunity to loiter round down with an ice axe without getting arrested. I should go over to St Pauls with it and see what the reaction from the Polis is there.

    Further down the hill there was someone scraping off her bit of the pavement with a frying pan spatula. It was all she had. And that’s the problem with relying on residents to do the cleaning: its only people with gardens that they maintain who have shovels; students don’t, people who live in flats don’t, unless they are into Scottish winter/alpine summer mountaineering.

  19. Exactly! The idea that we can all muck in together and jovially beat the freeze is great – but without the proper tools to do the job, that’s all it is, an idea. I cobbled together an old broom, a pick-axe, a large flat piece of wood for scraping, a kitchen bin and a (plastic) dust-pan. It took an hour to scrape through thick ice & then grit an area around 15′ x 5′. None of my neighbours have the shovels or other tools we really need to get the job done properly.

    As for the police, well, I got followed around by them (on and off for an hour) when I went collecting and distributing grit. Not on foot, mind; they stuck to their nice warm doughnutmobile. I thought of asking them to lend a hand, but then thought better of it.

  20. Pingback: Bristol’s Big Freeze: The word on the blogosphere « Bristle’s Blog from the BunKRS

  21. Being from Easton and finding ourselves in the same situation i thought you might be interested in this post and the comments that were made.

    http://greenbristolblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/ice-man-cometh.html

    Also that the council map of grit bins is totaly out of date last being updated in 2007 so totaly usless if you want to find a bin.

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