The Conservative leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council has hit back at Labour claims that the authority was unprepared for the recent wintry weather.
Abi Brown says that the city council has made a number of ‘key improvements’ to its winter policy since Labour were voted out of office in 2015, and that there had been a ‘lack of investment’ under previous adminstrations.
Labour group leader Jane Ashworth wrote to Mrs Brown last week, saying the council did not have enough gritters due to budget cuts, while many grit bins across the city were empty, meaning pavements pavements had been left like ‘ice rinks’. Ms Ashworth called on Mrs Brown to ‘step up and take control’ of the situation.
A petition has now been launched calling on the city council to install more grit bins.
But Mrs Brown has now responded to Labour’s criticisms and defended her administration’s record.
In a letter to Ms Ashworth, Mrs Brown claims that the council has operated eight gritting vehicles since 2010, but that £9.5 million has been spent on refreshing the fleet and equipment since 2015.
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Mrs Brown says that in recent years the council has also upgraded its weather station and introduced an option for councillors to purchase grit bins for their wards. The letter states: “The city council currently operates to the Winter Policy that was brought in by the Labour administration in 2010.
“However, since 2015 we have made a number of key improvements to this policy. The first of these was to evaluate the effectiveness of the machinery and direct resources available for winter highways activities, to keep our communities and highways as safe as possible.
“What became clear was that nearly all of that equipment we inherited from Labour was old and unreliable, due to an historic lack of investment. Because of this, it was only ever 60 per cent effective at best.”
Mrs Brown goes on to say that the council started its winter training for crews in October, and that all 498 grit bins across the city were ‘audited’ ahead of the winter.
Around 73 tonnes of grit has been stocked in the bins, although Mrs Brown suggests that some theft may have occurred due to some residents ‘unknowingly’ taking grit to treat their private driveways.
Since the start of the winter the council has spread more than 800 tonnes of rock salt on gritting routes – but Mrs Brown says the effectiveness of gritting over the Christmas period was hampered by the lack of traffic.
Meanwhile, an online petition calling on the city council to provide grin bins on estates across the city has been launched on the authority’s website.
The petition, organised by James Hope, says the recent snow left hundreds of residents on ungritted roads ‘isolated and vulnerable’.
Mr Hope states: “Residents pay council tax and they are not receiving the basic services that a local authority should be providing. There are some estates in this city with no grit bins at all! Where there are grit bins they are not been maintained or refilled leaving them completely useless.
“By providing grit bins for residents to use it gives them the independence of gritting their own routes which will also in turn help to relieve some of the pressure from the highways department. The gritters of this city do an amazing job but they cannot do it all which is why we as residents need the option and the availability of resources to do it ourselves.
“We need Stoke-on-Trent City Council to step up and take action now before this causes serious harm to the residents of this city.”
At the time of writing, 18 people had signed the petition. It will run until February 5.