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.