Council comes under attack over icy roads

Councillors agreed a change to gritting policy for secondary routes in October
Councillors agreed a change to gritting policy for secondary routes in October

Aberdeenshire Council has faced fierce criticism from Strathdon residents for leaving roads they described as “ice rinks” during the recent freeze-up.

Local people complained that routes in the area were left untreated and a council worker claimed the authority’s winter road treatment policy was putting lives at risk.

On one occasion last week a school bus was stuck at Glenbuchat for three hours due to the icy conditions.

Residents took to social media to vent their fury and local councillors and council officials were contacted about the hazardous state of the roads.

Council worker Carol Hutton, of Forbestown, Strathdon, lodged an official complaint with her bosses after arriving late for work because of the slippery roads.

She said: “It is absurd and unacceptable that Aberdeenshire’s roads are policy-considered/set and winter-treated the same way when road surfaces, altitudes and local weather patterns are so widely diverse.

“There must be a priority and flexibility given to high altitude routes and local gritter/plough drivers’ expertise must be acted on when gritting/ploughing decisions are made in the early morning hours and during the course of their duties so they can adapt to local conditions as these change.

“Higher altitude-dwelling residents are consistently marginalised in all manner of matters and now our road safety is being completely disregarded.

Ms Hutton added that the authority’s winter road treatment policies were putting the lives of school children in buses and the lives of adults, including council employees at high risk - “all for the sake of a one-size-fits-all cost-cutting exercise”.

But Aberdeenshire Council has defended the change to gritting policy, maintaining it continues to devote a “large resource” to winter maintenance.

A council spokesperson said: “Aberdeenshire has an extensive road network with more than 1,000 miles of primary routes and we continue to devote a large resource to winter maintenance as we have in previous years.

“Following a change to the gritting policy as agreed by councillors at the October meeting of the Infrastructure Services Committee, secondary routes are now only due to receive treatment if the route is forecast to be below freezing for 48 hours. Treatment is then administered as soon as the forecast is received.

“As always our roads teams monitor conditions and will treat routes as a precaution in the afternoons and also in the early mornings. Teams will always be on standby ready to act. We urge motorists to take extra care during winter and always ensure they are driving to the conditions of the road.”

Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside Councillor Peter Argyle had a meeting with roads officials this week and raised the issue of Strathdon’s routes.

He said: “The council is responsible for treating some 3000 miles of roads and when there are below zero temperatures across the whole of Aberdeenshire, as there were last week, it is clearly impossible for all routes to be treated before 8am.

“There has to be some prioritisation which inevitably means that some routes will not get done until later in the day. Most roads are also used at some point by school transport.

“Without a massive increase in resources – which the council does not have – the present regime will remain in place. Winter maintenance is already based on local information and the council does not adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

“There is flexibility built into the work done but the routes taken by the gritters have been designed to be as effective as possible in keeping motorists moving safely.”