Gritting Riverside


Thursday, December 3rd, 2009. 2:39am


Riverside in Cambridge is treacherous when it's icy but the councils are refusing to grit it.

Riverside in Cambridge is treacherous when it’s icy but the councils are refusing to grit it. Photo: Cambridge Cycling Campaign (license)

On the 12th of November 2009 I attended Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee. I asked City and County Councillors if Riverside would be gritted this winter. This area was a problem in icy conditions last winter and it has still not been resolved as the frosts start this year.

County Cllr Kevin Wilkins responded to my question. He said that as far as he knew Riverside will not be gritted this winter. He explained his answer was based on information from the letters page of the Cambridge News. I was shocked that a county councillor had no more authoritative source of updates.

No other councillors spoke on this matter, none expressed any interest in taking any action.

My view is that it is really important that, where and when needed, heavily used walking and cycling routes are gritted. I am astounded at the councillors lack of interest and action in this area given the level of local demand for a basic service which the council should be providing here.

I understand that council resources are stretched at times of ice and snow but I think this area ought be prioritised. If the County Council won’t do anything then, as a last resort, the City Council ought act. Rangers and street cleaners do some gritting and snow clearance; it is within the power of city councillors to get them to do Riverside even if its not technically a City Council responsibility.

I am rather confused by the Liberal Democrat inaction on this. My best guess is that it is down to the poor quality of councillors the residents of East Chesterton elect. In addition to the notorious Cllr Blair, they’ve got Susannah Kerr whose most significant action I’ve noticed since her election has been to talk about her intention to apply for a grant to fix a fence and Jennifer Liddle, who also rarely contributes, and now has an address tens of miles away in Woodditton south of Newmarket.

One of the contributory problems here is that the very expensive new bridge works have been poorly finished off leaving a lot of standing water on the road in wet weather. Councillors get very poor value for public money and I’m sure if they were spending their own money on works they would demand a higher standard than they do when they are spending millions of our money.

Almost 2,000 People A Day Use Riverside Bridge

Shortly after I had asked my public question on gritting a Cambridge News article reported that “As many as 1,900 cyclists a day are using Cambridge’s new bridge, which connects Riverside to Chesterton.”

County councillor Roy Pegram, cabinet member for infrastructure, was quoted as saying:

“The council is investing heavily in getting more people on their bikes. “Encouraging cycling is not only good for people and the environment but also for reducing congestion.

I think this is a highly disingenuous thing to say given his councils decision not to grit the adjacent roadway, which is heavily used by cyclists in icy weather.

The city council is considering spending many millions (over time) in this area to alter the road and improve the cycle route but it is unable to get the basics, like gritting, sorted out.

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10 comments/updates on “Gritting Riverside

  1. John Lawton

    I’m surprised that there aren’t any responses to this piece. I remember the debacle last winter when the County ran out of salt. City LibDem councillors wring their hands, but appear to have achieved nothing since then, and appear powerless to take any initiative themselves.

    I believe that it is a total failure to act on the (assumed) obligation of local government to safeguard their citizens in the simple matter of moving around the city on foot or bicycle.

    Heads really should roll over this, but I suppose nothing will happen as usual. What is local government for, if not for basic services like this?

  2. David Hollingsbee

    On 23 December I spotted a team from (I think) Cambridge City Council throwing salt down on the pavements on Mill Road railway bridge.

    As the snow and ice had already been around for nearly a week, this seemed a bit late in the day, and it was already starting to melt anyway.

  3. Richard Article author

    I think the lack of any substantive response from councillors (either city or county) to my question about gritting, which I asked well in advance of the recent cold weather, showed Cambridge’s councillors aren’t passionate and interested in ensuring the city’s roads and pavements were cleared of snow and ice this winter. We need to elect people prepared to fight for the interests of those who live in and visit Cambridge – we get the councillors we collectively choose when we vote.

    Ice on Cambridge Pavements - Market Square

    Ice on Cambridge Pavements - Petty Cury

    The above photos show the state of the city centre pavements during on what could have been the busiest shopping day of the year – the Saturday before Christmas – was shocking. There hadn’t been snow since Thursday evening; I think either or both councils ought to have done a lot better at organising gritting and clearing.

    I’ve seen a couple of aftermaths of falls, two of which required ambulances and one had resulted in sizeable pool of blood in the snow; for many people the state of the roads and pavements causes significant problems.

    Some Thoughts:

    * There appeared to be no plan for day two, three, four, five of snow and ice. Not gritting and clearing secondary routes eg. Chesterton Road on the first night of snow is not that bad, but for it not to have seen any grit at all over the period ice and cold is unacceptable.

    * There is a lack of boxes of grit; these appear to have disappeared in the last few years. There are a few areas in Cambridge where these would be useful – on our few hills and bridges – enabling residents, or city council staff, to put the grit on the roads.

    * Cambridge City Centre management is now run by the secretive and undemocratic “Love Cambridge” whereas previously it was run by the City Council and directly accountable via councillors to Cambridge residents. Cllr Cantrill pushed the creation of the new body through the council and is now a director of the new company. This means we don’t know what, if anything, those responsible for promoting the city centre have had to say about the performance of the councils’ during this icy spell.

    * Radio Cambridgeshire on Wednesday was reporting that City Council staff had been working for the County Council clearing the ice and snow. I’m interested to find out exactly what this means. I think the City Council ought to have been directing their own staff. I’ve been quite baffled by why the city council staff who I have seen clearing snow have been doing what they’ve been doing such as clearing a diagonal path across the road on Market Square.

    *Neither council’s claims to be putting pedestrians and cyclists first stand up scrutiny of their actions during this period of cold weather.

    *I wonder if some of the senior council officers have any pride in their jobs, I think this latest, very visible sign of poor council performance is a sign of deeper malaise.


    On Saturday night there was another snowfall, leaving parts of Kings' Hedges Road white.

    On Saturday night there was another snowfall, leaving parts of Kings’ Hedges Road white.

    City Cllr John Hipkin (Ex. Lib Dem, Now Independent) has been calling for a unitary authority, citing conflict between the City and the County during the snow and ice debacle as something which would be solved by such a reorganisation. I agree there are massive problems caused by the current arrangements, and think they are exacerbated by party political point scoring. I don’t think the current city boundries are in the right place, and we’ve got to take decisions at the right levels, many aspects of transport and development in the Cambridge region need to be considered without things like the Cambridgeshire – Essex border getting in the way. I’d like to see democracy strengthened and believe there ought be a majority elected individuals on regional bodies such as the police authority, NHS trust, Cambridgeshire Horizons etc.

    City Councillors have been directing constituents to the county council. I think this is wrong. I think elected representatives should represent the concerns of their constituents to whichever organisation required. City Councillors should be making an argument for better gritting to the county council and not writing off the issue as not-their job.

    Snowman Built In-front of Door in Cambridge
  4. David Vincent

    In “the old days” shopkeepers and householders took some pride in clearing their own frontages, all the way to the kerb. Does anyone know if there is any truth in the story that this practice ceased because of the danger of being sued? (the principle presumably being that if you did nothing, no-one could blame you – legally at least – whereas if you did some clearance, and someone slipped anyway, they could maintain it was your fault for not doing it well enough?).

  5. Richard Article author

    Yesterday a caller to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire complained that a gritter on the High Street in Histon was being followed by a working Road Sweeping vehicle.

  6. John Lawton

    David, returning home today after a month away I spoke to a shop owner in Victoria Avenue. He said that he was once told by a council street worker that if he cleared the pavement in front of his shop, then he could become liable in the case of an accident, (and I assume was then accused of doing an inadequate job). He also said that he already believed this to be the case anyway. To me this is clearly madness.

    I would like to know how this attitude might have arisen and I intend to obtain a legal opinion on this matter from both councils and then to challenge them if necessary.

    Irrespective of the above, as I did last winter, I will clear and salt local pavements to make them safe to use, as long as I can obtain the necessary rock salt.

    In my opinion both councils must stockpile this material and undertake to supply and keep refilled a goodly number of street salt bins so members of the public can keep their local walkways and pavements safe.

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