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‘We need a better plan’


Councillors call for change to Winter Service Plan after weekend of public anger over lack of gritting

Anton McNulty

ANGRY councillors have called for a review of the council’s Winter Service Plan after large parts of the county were left stranded by treacherous roads due to the freezing temperatures.
Many of the county’s local road network were left unpassable last week as they were not treated in line with Mayo County Council’s policy to only grit the major road networks when temperatures freeze below zero.
Under Mayo County Council’s Winter Service Plan just 3 percent of the 5,500km of local roads are gritted, while 82 percent of regional roads are gritted and all of the county’s  national and secondary routes are gritted.
There were reports of a number of traffic accidents on untreated roads throughout the county and many people presented themselves in the Emergency Department of Mayo University Hospital due to falls on icy surfaces.
While the rise in temperatures in the last 48 hours has cleared the roads, councillors in the west of the county called for a review of Winter Service Plan to ensure more local roads are treated.
Achill-based councillor Paul McNamara raised the matter at yesterday’s (Monday) meeting of the Westport/Belmullet Municipal District where he said there cannot be a repeat of what happened last week.
“Something has to be done about it. My phone never stopped and in the area I represent a whole section of the community was unaccessible. I had numerous calls over the week from people pleading for their road to be salted.

‘Absolutely scandalous’
“I think it is ridiculous that we could not prioritise some of the local roads and for Tom Gilligan [Director of Services for Roads] to tell me that only 3 percent of the local roads is all we are getting done is absolutely scandalous. There was no local road salted at all in my area; in fact I put more salt on my dinner yesterday than was put on any of the local roads in my area.
“We know we are entering a phase of climate change and we cannot let it happen again. We cannot have a period of seven of eight days of hard frosty weather where parts of the rural areas are completely shut down. Surely to God we can have some plan in place for those areas,” he said.
A number of his fellow councillors highlighted that Kerry County Council have a system in place where grit is allocated in strategic parts of the county and local communities are tasked with spreading on local roads.

Praise for staff
Westport councillor Brendan Mulroy along with his colleagues praised the commitment of the council staff to grid the main roads but added that people were ‘justifiably angry’.
“People were really angry and we got it over the phone and it wasn’t the first time I can say I have ever experienced anything like that.
“I will not put the blame on the door of Mayo County Council staff but I will say we need a better plan and a plan which will work in the future. We cannot have this situation going into the problem. We have identified the problem, now let’s go and solve it,” he commented.
Cathaoirleach of the municipal district Cllr Christy Hyland said it was clear that the plan was not working in the current climate and changes will have to be made.
“What worked in the past will not work in the future and if we have frosty winters we have to come up with a new plan and leave grit at strategic locations,” he said.
The Winter Service Plan is adopted every October by members of Mayo County Council and Padraig Walsh, the Head of the Westport/Belmullet Municipal District said that the council spend approximately €1 million every year on it. He outlined that the council have a stockpile of 4,000 tonnes of grit and use approximately 70 tonne over 23 routes on each mobilisation.

‘Mega’ investment needed
He added that 5,000km of road are not treated in the plan and to treat the majority of those roads will need ‘mega’ investment.
“You can see the scale of the network that’s left which is not routinely treated. If you are routinely treating that you are into a massive upscale of equipment and salt and money and we are into mega investment. We spend on excess of €1 million on our winter service plan as it stands so I wouldn’t attempt to guesstimate what that will cost but you can see the scale.
We do our best with the resources we have and work to the budget you have adopted. We are where we are and if you need to revisit it I have to point out the sheer scale of what you are opening up,” he said.
In response Cllr McNamara said he did not accept it would take such an investment and feels that common-sense needs to prevail.
Director of Services for the Municipal District, Catherine McConnell said that the Roads Strategic Policy Committee may be the appropriate forum for any changes to the Winter Service Plan to be considered.


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