Hundreds of Northamptonshire roads removed from the winter maintenance service will be gritted once more after the council performed a U-turn on its controversial policy following severe criticism.
Conservative leader Cllr Matt Golby announced this morning Northamptonshire County Council will scrap its policy which had seen 411km of roads removed from the precautionary gritting network.
The leader had faced calls from all quarters including fellow councillors and residents to think again about the cost-saving policy after a number of reported accidents over the past few icy weeks on ungritted roads.
In one incident a woman crashed her car down a hill in Daventry after a request made by the police to the council was reportedly refused. A pregnant woman also crashed her car in Northampton on a road that had been removed from the gritting network.
Cllr Golby said it was his personal decision to make the about-turn and that no other services will suffer as a result of a boost in road gritting. He said the service would return ‘as near as damn it’ to the previous levels. Boroughs and district councils have been asked to contribute but Cllr Golby said the county council would cover costs in full if other councils decide not to.*
He said: “There was a clear message coming through and I have listened to that call. It is our job to listen. We don’t always have the luxury to be able to to that.
“This is down to the fact that there has been a hell of a lot of hard work dealing with the massive budgetary challenge.”
The councillor said with a couple of months to go the authority was ‘very close’ to balancing this year’s budget and that the money to grit the roads would not come from the capital flexibility granted by the Government to the authority.
He added that he did not regret having cut the service in the first place because ‘difficult decisions had had to be made’.
He said the issue had been discussed at the Conservative group meeting last night (Feb4) and there was support from his colleagues. He had also run the matter by the chief executive Theresa Grant and the two commissioners overseeing the council.
There have also been talks with Kier WSP which has the winter gritting contract and he said final arrangements were being made.
But Cllr Golby could not confirm that there were won’t be changes to the gritting service for next winter announced in the final 19/20 budget papers which will be made public tomorrow.
The plan to cut back the amount of roads that were gritted were first announced in autumn 2017 and have faced severe opposition since then.
The council rejected calls in October by Labour, Liberal and independent councillors to think of another way to make the £475,000 savings. They said the move would risk the safety of road users.
Independent Cllr Jim Hakewill said: “I’m absolutely delighted that the petition has finally got the leader to see sense. I’m saddened that no-one took notice of my pleas back in October but sometimes it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you do.”
Northampton Labour councillor Gareth Eales said: “It is a victory for common-sense and people power. However, I cannot possibly tolerate the spinning of this U-turn as a friendly or charitable gesture on the part of the Conservative council. The cuts to winter gritting were made only in October of last year, despite mass opposition. It was a dumb idea then and it has been proven to be exactly that.”
Northampton businesswoman Jo Mumford had started an online petition. She said: “I am pleased to hear that the county council have finally listened. More than 3,200 people signed my online petition, this is their victory. A safe passage on our road network is a legal minimum expectation.”
*This extra detail was provided to the newspaper at 11.30am today.