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December 8 - 14 2010
By David Millward Transport Editor BRITAIN’S reserve of grit is less than half the size it should be, the Government admitted last week, amid a growing row over who was to blame for the weather crippling the nation’s transport network.
Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, was accused of “breathtaking complacency” after he told MPs that only 107,000 tons of the recommended 250,000ton “strategic stockpile” of salt had been delivered. The rest was due to arrive over the next six weeks.
The stockpile was intended to provide back-up supplies when councils and the Highways Agency ran out. It also emerged that councils were taking stringent measures to preserve supplies. One council has told staff to spread grit on only one side of the pavement in an attempt to conserve its stocks.
The alleged failure of councils to spread enough grit has been blamed by many motoring organisations for the paralysis of the road network last week.
Travellers by air and rail also suffered. Gatwick, Southampton, Durham Tees Valley and London City airports were all closed for at least part of last week. Flights were cancelled at Heathrow, Luton and Newcastle.
Train services operated by Eurostar, Southeastern, First Hull Trains, ScotRail, CrossCountry and East Midlands were also disrupted by the heavy snow.
About 7,000 schools were closed, while about two in five people failed to turn up for work, dealing a huge blow to the economy in the run-up to Christmas.
Many cash machines ran out of money, and thousands of households had no post for several days, leading to huge backlogs at Royal Mail depots. Online orders are expected to reach unprecedented levels this year, as shoppers turn their backs on the High Street because of the snow and ice, and with the Met office predicting further snow in the middle of the month,
shoppers are being warned by the Road Haulage Association that there is a “real possibility” that presents will not arrive in time for Christmas.
Mr Hammond has already ordered an inquiry into the failures that have left much of Britain at a standstill.
In the Commons last Thursday, Maria Eagle, the
‘Hello, darling, I made it to work ... I’m going to come home now’
shadow transport secretary, criticised the Government’s response, telling Mr Hammond to “get a grip”.
The snowfall over the past week had been the heaviest and most widespread at this time of year since 1965, the Met Office said.
The body of Lillian Jenkinson, 80, was discovered in her back garden in Workington, Cumbria. William Wilson, 84, died in the back yard of his home near Kirkby Stephen, prompting concerns for the elderly. Cumbria police warned of the dangers of the elderly living on their own. They believe Mrs Jenkinson may have fallen and spent the night in freezing conditions before being found last Wednesday.
Mr Wilson, who lived on his own, was found the day before. His son, John, 57, said his father may have been collecting coal and slipped.
“He was wearing just a thin shirt, jumper and jeans. He had been out there at least a couple of hours.” Mrs
A steam train makes light work of the conditions (top left), but Gatwick airport was closed (left) and roads and train services were severely disrupted. Below: a farmer hunts for his missing sheep on the Swaledale moor tops
Jenkinson was found by a neighbour who checked on her twice a day.
In Scotland, a 14-year-old girl was feared to be paralysed after being crushed by snow and ice while clearing the roof at her home near Gordon, Berwickshire, last Thursday.
The Retail Motor Industry Independent Petrol Retailers’ Association said 500 stations had run low on fuel and that the situation in the east of the country was increasingly serious. Gatwick airport opened for the first time in 48 hours last Friday as airports tried to cope with a backlog.
The AA claimed that the bad weather had exposed the over-reliance of local authorities on contractors.
Union sources alleged that some private contractors were reluctant to pay the overtime necessary to keep the gritting lorries out at night.
Mr Hammond was critical of train operators over their treatment of passengers who endured another miserable commute.
Many were accused of not only failing to provide a service but also failing to update passengers about the situation. This led to more hours of frustration for commuters waiting for trains that were either late or never turned up.
About 300 passengers were stranded overnight on a Southern train in West Sussex where snow caused a series of line failures around Three Bridges. One passenger, Rebecca Forsey, said: “It was an absolute nightmare. We had to wait around for several hours in the cold on a freezing platform. We finally got something to eat at 4am.”
Mr Hammond told MPs that the lack of information was “unacceptable”. He wrote to train operators last week demanding action to ease the plight of the travelling public.
Nigel Harris, the managing editor of Rail magazine, described the failures as “shameful”.
“It’s disgraceful in the 21st century that we can have people stuck all night on trains in built-up areas in southern England,” he said. “Being involved in the rail business, these incidents make me angry and embarrassed.”
In a separate development, the RMT transport union alleged that services on Southeastern — the country’s worst-hit line — had suffered because Network Rail’s contractor, DB Schenker, was not using enough de-icing fluid on the electric third rail.
This was denied by a Network Rail spokesman. “There is no truth to these claims. DB Schenker have being doing a good job in very difficult conditions to keep as many routes open as possible. Passengers have had a tough day and the RMT’s misguided attempts to lay blame helps no one.”
Snow turned to rain over the weekend in many parts of the country, bringing some relief, but freezing temperatures returned on Sunday night. More snow was forecast in Scotland, with wintry showers expected across England and Wales.
By Andrew Hough FOR weeks she had defied the judges and won over the public with her less-than graceful performances on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. On Sunday night, Ann Widdecombe came down to earth with a bump. Miss Widdecombe, 63, bowed out after coming bottom of the judges’ scores for the seventh week in a row with her partner Anton Du Beke. But while the voting public had come to her rescue in the past, a BBC source said that this time viewers had abandoned her.
The former MP’s routine on last Saturday’s film-themed show was particularly disastrous. Although Du Beke managed to lift her into the air three times, their score of 14 out of a possible 40 points was a record low for an American Smooth dance.
Bruno Tonioli, the judge, described the routine to Hello Dolly as “more like Hello
Trolley”. He added that she looked like “a Dalek in drag”.
Despite the repeated criticism of judges, Miss Widdecombe said she had no regrets. She admitted that she never entertained hopes of winning, despite a public campaign.
Speaking from her home in Devon, she said: “It had to happen sometime. I would rather have hoped to have another week, as I would have liked to have got through to the semi-final.”
THREE of the people who placed a pin on our World’s Best Places to Live map have won a free trip for two to the place of their dreams.
The lucky winners are: » Jeff Mayhead, who nominated Grozdevo in Bulgaria. Jeff is chartering a yacht for The Neptune Regatta for his prize. » Tim Hill, who nominated Bayshore Park in
Singapore. Tim would like to go to Barcelona at Easter » Terri Martin, who nominated Hobart in Tasmania. Terri is still deciding where she would like to go!
We are still waiting to hear back from two of the winners, so if you placed a pin on the map before the competition deadline of October 31, 2010, please check your email.
HSBC Bank International
World’s Best Places to Live is sponsored by HSBC Bank International, providers of specialist offshore savings and investment solutions for people living and working abroad www.offshore.hsbc.com