Offenders lined up for winter snow clearance

OFFENDERS who are given community orders could be clearing snow from the streets this winter as a series of measures are put in place to deal with wintry weather.

As part of an agreement with the Northumbria Probation Service, those serving community payback sentences can be deployed on snow clearance duties across the county to help keep streets and roads clear.

Coun Gordon Castle, the chairman of Northumberland County Council’s economic prosperity and strategic services overview and scrutiny committee, described the measure as an ‘overdue injection of common sense’.

It is just one of a number of policies which were put in place by the committee on Monday.

Because the last two winters have been so severe, a highways and transport winter services working group was set up.

The head of highways and neighbourhood services and the head of sustainable transport have identified the need to review all existing policies, arrangements and procedures in respect of winter services in Northumberland to ensure the authority is as prepared as it can be for winter 2011/12 and can respond as appropriate according to the severity of conditions.

Plans and priorities for road and footpath clearance will be published on the county council’s website so that town and parish councils are aware of what to expect during bad weather. Road priorities are already live on the site, with footpaths to follow soon.

Advisory leaflets will also be available in council information centres and public access points.

However issues have arisen over the insurance given to people who set up snow clearance groups in communities and villages around the county.

Coun Castle said: “A difficulty has arisen in the use of volunteers who assist the council in road or footpath clearance operations, like Alnwick Town Council’s snow rangers, in that, if they are not themselves parish or county councillors, then it may be that their council’s public liability insurance does not cover them. This is being investigated.”

However, committee members were surprised to learn that five new gritting wagons, which were ordered after last winter’s severe weather, have not yet been delivered and may not be with the council until the new year.

Coun Castle added: “Given that a year has elapsed, members were not satisfied with this situation and have asked the executive member for a written explanation. It would seem that the delays may rest primarily with the council rather than the supplier.”

He also reiterated the need to dispel the myth that those clearing snow or ice from the front of the properties or businesses might risk being sued for negligence.

The council solicitor’s advice will be published again this year to counter such claims.