CHARLES GRAHAM - Here’s the nitty gritty

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WIGAN’S latest white-out was followed by a deluge of complaints about council gritters and ploughs.

“There was not one to be seen,” was the oft-repeated chant on social media and our website comments page as the borough rapidly disappeared under a blanket of snow last Friday evening.

Some folk claimed that the local authority team had just shrugged and given up in the face of extreme weather, leaving motorists at its complete mercy.

Certainly I didn’t pity anyone trying to get out and about late Friday or on Saturday. Driving conditions were indeed treacherous and it was difficult to see where the snow clearance operations yielded much benefit.

But, I can tell you, it wasn’t for the want of trying.

Wigan Council’s gritting team comprises 10 staff and 10 vehicles which is not a lot. With hundreds of miles of roads to cover and frequent trips to and from the depot in order to refill with rock salt, there is only so much that can be done.

As it happens those workers were on our roads doing their best to keep them snow-free from 4pm on Friday when the blizzards began, right through to 10pm the following day. So much for slacking.

Factor in rush hour traffic obstructing the routes, the sheer number of main roads in Wigan borough, the small number of staff and vehicles and the rate at which large amounts of snow came down, and there’s little wonder that the gritter teams were, temporarily, fighting a losing battle. No one has been brave or foolhardy enough to argue that the local authority should invest in more gritters and staff.

Given the number of times we’ve been hit by weather like this over the last 20 years (it’s single figures) it would be a false economy in the most prosperous times to double or treble the fleet never mind a period when we are about to enter a recession for the third time.

The grit does a good job when it is icy or when there is a light dusting of snow, but it is no match for several inches within a few hours.

I am less sympathetic to the excuses for not keeping at least one carriageway of that large, straightforward and extremely important route - aka the M6 - which also came to a standstill in the blizzard and left folk stranded in their vehicles all night after a series of crashes. But keeping that clear is not Wigan Council’s job.

I think our gritting teams do an excellent job. Patently they can’t be everywhere at once, nor can they be expected to cover every side road as well as the main routes (although gritting the precipitous streets around Shevington Vale Primary in Appley Bridge when it is icy would be much appreciated!).

Hardy northern Europeans laugh uproariously when we go into a complete meltdown over an occasional bit of snow and wonder why we don’t just shrug and get on with it.

Well, we aren’t geared up to cope with Arctic conditions because they are not frequent enough to legislate generously for.

But neither should folk ignore the reality of the challenges facing those tasked with tackling winter extremes.