Local councils stripped of key powers over big freeze debacle
Published 13/08/2010 | 05:00
LOCAL authorities have been stripped of key powers in the wake of a Government-ordered review into the Christmas freeze-up fiasco.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) has taken over responsibility for ordering de-icing salt after local councils were heavily criticised at the time for running out of supplies.
The NRA has just placed an order for 80,000 tonnes of salt in preparation for a possible repeat of the four-week spell of freezing weather between December and January, the Irish Independent has also learned.
Putting the NRA in charge of sourcing salt supplies instead of the local authorities is a key recommendation in the Government-ordered review of transportation responses to the severe weather.
The previous ad hoc arrangement where each local authority sourced its own supplies was roundly branded a failure during the cold snap as stocks rapidly disappeared.
County councils were blamed for not gritting roads and footpaths with salt. Many drivers got involved in serious crashes, while hospital A&E departments were put under pressure trying to cope with people, especially the elderly, who were injured after falling on treacherous footpaths.
An NRA spokesman said yesterday they were acting swiftly on the recommendation that they co-ordinate the purchase of salt for use on national roads.
Under the new arrangement, the NRA will ensure that every local authority has a 10-day supply of salt.
In addition, the NRA will hold a strategic reserve of a further 10,000 tonnes as a back-up if a prolonged spell of freezing weather persists.
"We had no formal role before, but now it has been put on a formal basis," an NRA spokesman added. "We are implementing the action plan recommendation."
He also pointed out that by buying 80,000 tonnes of salt in bulk there was a significant saving for taxpayers.
"This has to do with purchasing power. In fairness to the local authorities, the NRA can consolidate this purchasing power, thus alleviating pressure on local authorities to buy smaller amounts at higher prices," the spokesman added.
During the big freeze it emerged that the Department of Transport had written to the country's 34 local authorities the previous November warning them to buy grit to prepare for the extreme weather.
Each local authority was told money was available through a discretionary fund and warned that it should be used. But despite this, thousands of kilometres of local and regional roads remained treacherous as there was no salt left.
Local and secondary roads across the country also remained extremely dangerous because they too were not gritted
Local authorities were reluctant to use grit instead of salt as it is of limited benefit because it doesn't melt ice and gets stuck in tyres.
It also has what's called a ball-bearing effect on motorways. When the snow melts you have little rocks which can become airborne.