Ryeview – January 2010

‘Street shovel’ solution to icy pavements

John Clark writes…

First published: January 2010 – Gazette & Herald

When I lived in Aberdeen my landlady asked me to look at an overflowing gutter. I said she would need to provide a ladder. No problem, the ‘street ladder’ was at number 36. She would arrange for the ladder to be available. What a sensible idea, the community working together at a very low individual cost. It seemed to work wonderfully. Fast forward 40 years. Today we would ask: Who is responsible? Has a risk assessment been carried out? If the ladder breaks will the person using it sue? Who is responsible for Health and Safety? Today everyone gets their own ladder to repair their own isolated castle.

There is a parallel with the recent snow and ice crisis in Ryedale. Major roads are the responsibility of the Highways Agency. All the rest are the responsibility of North Yorkshire County Council. Ryedale does some of the pavements and its own car parks. I have been very impressed by the way North Yorkshire has kept the roads cleared. The big area of concern from the ‘freeze up’ is pavements. Roads have a priority order which is the followed by pavements (with their own priority order). Whatever the system, whatever the priority order, whoever is responsible, the outcome wasn’t good enough. Many people fell and were injured in the side streets. Of course the roads need to be kept open but this must not mean that pavements become ice rinks.

If I understand correctly, in Germany the householder is responsible for clearing the pavement in front of their home. I have concerns. This would mean that the elderly and the infirm would not only have the ice problem but they would also be responsible for clearing ice and snow. Equally, expecting the local council to do the work has a cost. It would mean that there would need to be a large extra work force ready to spring into action on the arrival of snow or ice. This would result in an increase in Council tax. The largest financial impact would be on those who have the biggest struggle with the slippery pavements.

One of the problems with members of the public clearing the snow or salting the pavements is they ‘could be sued’. If someone clears snow or puts salt down can they be liable for causing somebody harm? Is this an ‘urban myth’? A lawyer needs to check it out and find out the true picture.

Is there a community solution? Would it work if the County Council put salt bins in every street? Volunteers would then be needed in each street. These people could then be each supplied with a shovel. It obviously would not give a 100% service but it could enable the local council to go round and finish the last bits. This may not be the best solution: hopefully it is worth a closer examination and maybe a trial run. All that is needed is the 1960’s community working together with the ‘street shovel’.

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