A Highland Ward councillor is raising the concerns of some of his constituents after they wrote to him saying they’ve been left ‘cut off’ by the change in service.
Mike Williamson is raising his concern that the decision to reduce the night-time gritting service from six to four routes leaves outlying communities isolated from deliveries and is ‘undermining their resilience.’
He said: “With the recent heavy snow fall across Highland Perthshire I am concerned that the recent cuts to night-time treatment of roads, from the Aberfeldy depot, is affecting many rural roads across Highland Perthshire with the freezing temperatures have left some residents cut left of as ploughs concentrate on the priority roads.
“The cut in service by the Conservative led council has led to the removal of a night-time gritter from the Aberfeldy depot this year has made it harder to support rural communities which have become cut off as they rely more heavily on home deliveries.
“Given the geography of the area I do wonder if the administration questioned the knock-on effect that the removal of the night-time gritter would have on the more rural roads across Highland Perthshire.
“I have received a large number of correspondence over the weekend about delivery vehicles which have a number of vehicles which have skidded off the roads, or been unable to reach their destination.”
However, a spokesperson from the council says that there has not been a cut in the budget for this year’s Winter Resilience funding but a change in the service offered.
The spokesperson explained: “It is incorrect to suggest that Perth & Kinross Council’s budget for winter maintenance has been cut for winter season 2020/2021.
“Operationally officers, reduced the number of night shift gritting routes from six to four, a decision based on the experiences and requirements of previous winters. No reduction in the gritting fleet was made and all six gritters are available for use.
“Due to the reduction in the number of night shift gritting routes a night shift control room was no longer a requirement because the existing standby rotas were flexible enough to provide adequate cover.
“Gritting is being carried out in accordance with the policy agreed at the Council’s Environment & Infrastructure Committee in August 2020.”
The council also say that since the number of gritters remain the same, they can ‘can reinstate the night control room temporarily.’
During the meeting, Barbara Renton, Executive Director, Housing and Environment said, ‘In particularly bad times, we will use all the resources that we need where appropriate’.
Councillor Williamson added: “While I would accept that the Council is unable to treat every road in Highland Perthshire. I am concerned that the removal of the nightshift treatment has been to the detriment of our outlying communities.
“It is important to stress the cuts to the winter maintenance budgets are hitting the Rural Communities harder and are undermining their resilience.
“Everyone should anticipate a level of service that is appropriate to the winter conditions. Whether it’s key workers who need to travel to care for people in their own homes or those of us who are just trying to get through the cold spells.”
However, fellow Highland Ward Councillor, John Duff, say’s it’s ‘hypocritical’ to criticise the council’s decision after it passed unanimously in the August meeting with Mr Williamson present.
Councillor Duff explained: “Rather hypocritically, the comments of Councillor Williamson fail to mention that his SNP group voted to remove £185,000 from the winter maintenance budget at the last Budget Meeting and that it was the Conservative Administration who fully maintained the winter maintenance budget for Perth and Kinross.
“Perhaps Councillor Williamson would care to comment on the impact which his decision to remove such a significant sum from our winter gritting budget would have had on roads in Highland Perthshire and all of the other rural areas across Perth and Kinross?
“The Council’s winter maintenance policy, which included the recent changes, was discussed at the Environment and Infrastructure Committee last August, at which Councillor Williamson and I were both present and were unanimously approved by the elected members in attendance.”
The decision, which was put to councillors, and agreed by all at the meeting, read as: “It is proposed to reduce the number of night shift routes operating during the full standby period from six to four.
“The increase from four to six-night shift routes that was made in winter 2018 / 2019 has not added the value expected, mainly due to the last two relatively mild winters that we have experienced.
“The two-night shift routes which will be removed for winter 2020 / 2021 operate out of Aberfeldy and Perth respectively and can be covered by a combination of evening and early morning gritting.”
In response, Cllr Williamson said: “The first is that the main thrust of my comments is about the delivery of the Council’s winter maintenance policy, their performance on the ground in respect of what is stated in their policy.”
“Secondly, Cllr Duff’s comments about the budget are a red herring because it is a feature of the winter maintenance budget that reserves are always called upon to deliver the policy beyond the formal budgetary provision.
“So our cut to the budget did not mean things would not get done, there would have been no change to what was done on the ground, we would just have had to fund more of it from reserves. Our risk appetite in setting the budget was higher than the Tories. The risk has, as they say, matured because of the bad weather, in a milder winter our budget would have been OK.”