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November 24, 2010 / clayliesstill

The snow is coming: are local authorities ready?

Well, it’s that time of the year again.

Britain is facing a few days of very cold weather and, for some parts, huge amounts of snow.

Where I live, in the southeast of England, we’ve had two years running where there have been falls of 20-30 cms which then lasted a week or so. In the 10 years before that the biggest fall of snow was probably 5 cms, and that melted in a day or so. Winter patterns have clearly changed, reverting to the pattern more common in the 1940s, 60s and 80s.

Let’s hope (hah!) therefore that this year highway authorities in Britain have learned the lessons and will be better prepared.

I believe the authorities should do more to ensure that conditions are safer for pedestrians and cyclists, a stop focusing entirely on the major road network. A major reason why cycle paths don’t work well in this country is that they are about the lowest priority for maintenance, winter or otherwise.

In the photo above, taken on January 10th this year, a minor country lane which I regularly use is buried under a metre of snow. Admittedly this was after many days of snow, and a bit of drifting. The road I took to work was never cleared: the snow simply melted of its own accord over 10 days. These were deemed low priority routes. The story common to many parts of Britain was the failure of the authorities to do any work on footways, which, for some reason were not considered as important as the road network.

I believe we’ve got our priorities wrong: we should concentrate on the pavements and minor roads to enable people to get from their homes to their local shops and services. Only once these are clear should we worry about major roads. The ‘just in time’ logistics techniques of supermarkets (where they use moving lorries as storage, holding supplies for just a couple of days at a time) would have to change, but that’s a bigger story.

In the longer term, it is clear that climate change or otherwise, the buckling jet stream, which has led to these sustained outbreaks of colder weather, is back with us. Local authorities need to work out once more how to deal with the occasional winter conditions in the south of England. My studded tyres are in the post.

p.s. In Britain we do like to complain about how badly we deal with real weather, but actually we’re not the only ones that have trouble with the white stuff. Just this week Seattle has embarrassingly slithered to a halt after snow coupled with seriously cold temperatures turned the whole of that hilly city into an grid patterned luge.

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