If you believe the forecasters, the nation should soon at last be released from the grip of the recent Arctic-like conditions. And for many, the relief will not come too soon.
And once this latest infrastructure crisis has past, it will be time to take stock and consider why the UK once again failed to cope with quite a small amount of snow.
OK. It is perhaps unfair to understate the severity of the recent weather conditions. Living in London I was spared some of the severe whiteout conditions seen elsewhere.
Because, as we have seen on the national news, the amount of snow combined with the prolonged low temperatures have had a massive and continued impact on the nation’s infrastructure and economy.
“The amount of snow with low temperatures have had a massive impact on our infrastructure and economy.”
The fact that the weather has been a lead news story for weeks demonstrates just how interrupted people’s lives have been. It was not just those living in more isolated rural areas that found themselves stranded, it was the majority of the population.
After last February’s deluge of snow disrupted transport, businesses, industry and schools, it was thought lessons would be learnt and measures taken to prevent it happening again.
While there is always the very sensible debate to be had about the economics of investing public money in large amounts in expensive snow clearing equipment that may never get used, last February clearly identified areas around planning and preparedness that could and should be implemented.
And to be fair, this work was done. By July the cross local authority UK Road Liaison Group had produced a report and identified 19 recommendations designed to improve local planning for winter weather, to kick-start better cooperation between local and national authorities and crucially to reduce the risk of salt stocks running out.
“We cannot afford to get this wrong again. Engineers must take the lead.”
We must consider it disappointing to say the least that the government sat on this report until 15 December before publicly accepting the recommendations in full.
Five wasted months that could have been spent ensuring that hard pressed local authorities understood what they should be doing and had the resources to be prepared. Five wasted months in which the Highways Agency should have been reviewing its salt stock policies and ensuring that it could not just cope but also assist local colleagues. The ridiculous thing is that the recommendations would not have actually cost huge amounts to implement.
Instead we will now see the actual cost of failure in terms of lost business, additional emergency services from helping stranded motorists and resident and in accident and emergency department treating all those people who slipped on untreated footpaths.
Rest assured such severe snow and bad weather will feature more in the UK. We cannot afford to get it wrong again. Engineers must take the lead. Someone has to!
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor