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Cornwall County Council admits to leaving 80% of roads untreated after two killed in coach crash

Only a fifth of the roads in Cornwall, the scene of a coach crash in which two women were killed and 47 people injured yesterday, were gritted ahead of the tragedy, it has been revealed.

Cornwall County Council has admitted that just 20% of its 7,250km road network is treated during winter weather, a day after two people were killed and 47 people injured in a coach crash on an untreated road.

Cornwall Council is responsible for over 7,520km of road from major principal roads to narrow country lanes, spending more than £1.35M keeping roads open and safe during the winter months.

With one of the largest road networks in the country to deal with, it said it is not possible to pre salt all the roads in the county. In a statement, it said that its highways service has, therefore, identified a priority list of routes based on the Code of Practice used by all highways authorities in the UK. “This includes the most heavily trafficked roads in the county, access to key sites such as hospitals, minor injury units and fire stations, and B roads which are not included in the list above. This comprises some 1,400km of road in Cornwall - approximately 20% of the total road network,” said the statement.

“The council’s winter service plan requires its team of 25 pre salting lorries to treat all A and B roads in Cornwall on a pro-active basis, with minor roads treated on a reactive basis.  Highways staff are on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week – including Christmas Day –which enables them to respond to emergency situations at very short notice. 

“Salting of roads is a precautionary treatment to reduce the freezing point of water in frosty conditions and is designed to reduce the possibility of skidding or more serious accidents.  However even on pre treated roads salting will not stop heavy snow from settling and sleet, hail and rain can cause problems with the salt being washed off the road.  It will also not prevent the formation of black ice when rain falls on sub zero roads.”

“Public safety is of paramount concern and we do everything we can to provide as safe a passage as possible for people who use our roads” said Simon Deacon, Highways Operations Manager for Cornwall Council.  “However it is vital that people do not assume that a road has been salted and we would urge drivers to ensure that they drive according to the road conditions”.

Cornwall Council Leader Alec Robertson has expressed his sympathy to the people involved in last night’s coach crash and has praised the efforts of the emergency services involved in the incident.

Robertson visited the scene of the accident at Godolphin Bridge, Townshend, Hayle in the early hours of this morning. He said the incident would come as a tremendous shock to the local community.

Forty four personnel and five appliances from Cornwall Council’s Fire and Rescue Service attended the scene.

Police confirmed that a police car on its way to help had skidded on the icy hill at Godolphin Bridge, near Penzance, and collided with the coach. No one was thought to have been hurt in this second accident.

Officers said the coach was fitted with lap belts but it remained unclear whether all the passengers, mainly elderly people, had been strapped in.

The coach is understood to have left the road shortly after 10pm yesterday, hit a tree and ploughed through a hedge before coming to a stop on its side near the village of Townshend, about 10km north-east of Penzance.

Readers' comments (12)

  • This is a horrendous incident and all sympathy must go to those involved.

    Blaming the Local Authority will not help. The blame lies with us the public. Do we want to pay extra tax so that the millions of pounds worth of equipment required to cope with these conditions which are only with us for a few days every few years.
    I understand that in Scandinavian countries all vehicles, by law, have to be fitted with chains or snow tyres. In the UK such equipment is almost unknown. Thus one must assume that rather spend money we would prefer to suffer in the short term.

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  • Alan Marco, your are indeed correct about stud tyres being neccesary by law but you need to consider that countries where this is the case, such as Finland, get a lot more snow and more regularly.

    When the roads are completely clear and dry such devices can cause major problems when driving.

    To assume that this is a issue relating to money doesn't take the full picture into consideration.

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  • Much of what Mr Marco says I agree with. Accidents happen and the results are tragic but Councils must be held to account. This cold spell has left millions of elderly people stranded in their homes. Roads are untreated yet supermarket car parks are free of ice. Front line staff are attacked with wage cuts yet our council offices bulge with support staff, all nice and warm. Councils are accountable, not the councellors elected with a few thousand votes but the full time officers paid thousands of pounds of taxpayers money.

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  • To hold the council to account is a ridiculous suggestion. The extra funding required to clear ice and snow after events such as this is very large, relative to the use it will do. Every time there is a council tax rise people are up in arms about it, so either we pay more and get more services, or occasionally put up with severe disruption. I grant you some support staff are probably not needed, but if you think cutting a few of them will make much difference to the speed at which the raods can be cleared I am afraid you are sadly mistaken.
    I believe we as a country need to be more sensible about our travel at this time. When it is icy, people should keep off the roads unless it is really vital for them to use them. Those that must travel should accept that travel will be very slow and not drive too fast (obviously those are general comments and I have no idea if they could apply in this particular tragic situation).

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  • Sorry Anon. If you had the guts to give your name I would have read all of your comment however ' I have no idea' did spring out. Perhaps if the laws of corporate manslaughter applied to highways agencies that might just sharpen up their acts.

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  • Does giving a name really matter that much? Personally I happen to agree with you about old people stuck in their homes, but feel corporate manslaughter is taking things a little far! Who on earth would work for the highway agency if every accident caused by ice etc lead to court. I am also sure they would argue that they do not force anyone to use the raods, or indeed specify a minimum speed.There is a danger to travelling by road, as with anything - we all know it but we choose to do it. That danger is increased when it is icy. The previous poster has a point about attitudes to paying more tax, but think they are living in dream world if you think we are going to stop travelling!!!

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  • Does giving a name matter? Are you anon 1,2,or3? You say 'Personally you happen to agree'. Are you speaking for yourself or a council, newspaper or what? Corporate crime relates to those who set policy not the poor sobs who carry it out. I do not propose that every road and footpath is treated but when one is crucial for the wellbeing of many people this should be a major consideration. This bus may have being carrying !0% of a village. Were they wrong to go out? If the road was dangeous why wasnt it closed? This incident should be investigated and lessons learnt. I will not cower at home. I pay my tax and I want service. I would set a target on all councils to reduce their staff by 10% a year for the next 10 years. Out source services and get rid of the back room shirkers. If Asda and Tesco can keep their carparks icefree why not let them quote for all roads?

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  • A tragic accident. My sympathies go to all the people involved.

    The NCE headline is emotive. Did the council admit the facts, or did it state the facts? There is a huge difference.

    Taking up Mr Pratt's comments, councillors and politics decide policies, officers advise and implement them. There is a large amount of safety legislation and hence personal liability already on the statute book. I'm not sure that is the issue here.

    Its sometimes useful to do the maths. If 20% of the network is treated by 25 vehicles, then how many for the complete network? Add 2 or even 3 sets of crew per vehicle on standby, gritting response times, accuracy of weather forecasting, vehicle blockages and so on. The bottom line for a more comprehensive service is a high figure.

    Go back to the comment above on political priorities. The same figure can be spent on lots of other needy council functions. Its not an easy political decision to make.

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  • Julian Smith

    Don, I think that your expectations are quite unrealistic. If each Highway Authority were to employ an army of sufficient manpower to provide the winter cover that you seem to expect, then the resulting Council Tax would be so high that I am sure you would be the first to complain. Such a level of service is patently not possible given the resources available.

    Also, Don - do you have a set of snow chains? I would wager that you do not. Try not to compare us to Scandinavia, then?

    What irritates me most about this issue is the use of the tabloid jargon in the original NCE article - use of 'has been revealed' and 'admits' in particular. The implication is that the Highway Authority had some policy (promising that all their roads would be contiuously made passable, for example) which they had covertly failed to achieve, a fact which the intrepid jounalists at the NCE had uncovered! NCE - please leave that stuff to the tabloids?

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  • Hi Julian I was going to let this sad matter rest. Please log on to the local Cornish newspapers. The facts tell the story. Air ambulances needsd to recover injured. What warnings were issued? This hill was known to locals as being dangerous. Not even the police had been warned. Ambulances and fire engines not able to access villages with scores of residents. As for snow chains I have universal chains that lock me to our local council for service I pay for and do not receive.

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