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Waste and Emissions»Sting in the tail of the big chill: miles of potholes and piles of rubbish

»Tuesday, March 2,2010

Potholes in their thousands are emerging as the cold spell continues, with road user groups calling yesterday for emergency funding to help councils to repair them. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be needed to mend crumbling roads once the thaw sets in.

Dangerous conditions are expected this morning as rain across the South freezes as it falls on to snow, but respite is expected tomorrow when temperatures are forecast to rise as high as 8C (46F), with more rain coming in from the South West.

Councils in the areas worst affected by the extreme weather are already reporting a higher than average incidence of potholes and warn that repairs will provoke budget shortfalls.

“Emergency funding is required to stop the vicious circle of crumbling roads costing more in compensation, accident claims and hospital admissions,” said Edmund King, the president of the AA. This is expected to be a record year for potholes because the freezing weather has lasted several weeks. Melted snow and ice collect in cracks in the road. When temperatures fall below zero, the water expands and the cracks are widened.

Geoff French, vice-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said: “It has been bad this year because the cold spell has lasted so long. It would not be unreasonable to consider special arrangements for funding to repair the more major roads.”

Adrian Tink, of the RAC, said: “Councils will need to work around the clock to fill [the potholes]. They will require support and funding from the Government.”

The Department for Transport said that it would consider local authority requests for extra funding. Taxpayers are already committed to provide £693 million to councils for the maintenance of roads in 2009-10. That figure will rise to £763 million next year.

On another day of chaos, roads were shut, train services curtailed and runways closed because of the snow. Hundreds of flights were cancelled at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Parts of the country have not had a rubbish collection since before Christmas and the Government has been accused of failing to learn the lessons of last February’s freeze. Piles of rubbish are mounting up outside houses because refuse lorries are unable to get through. Some parts of Kent have waited three weeks for bin bags to be collected. Cheshire, Merseyside and North Wales have also been affected. In Warrington the council has set up collection points where residents can leave their waste.

“Councils have been collecting bins as normal, wherever possible, but the public’s safety comes first,” said Gary Porter, of the Local Government Association. “Sending a 26-tonne dustcart down an icy street packed with cars and pedestrians is dangerous.” He said that councils would make up missed collections at weekends, and denied that binmen had been “twiddling their thumbs”. He said that there was “no risk” to public health.

On Tuesday, councils were told to halve their gritting to conserve supplies and the Local Government Association said yesterday that it would have to take “tough decisions” about which roads to grit.

Gordon Brown promised to review salting arrangements after he was challenged by David Cameron at Prime Ministers’ Questions. “We will review all these arrangements after this winter period,” he said. “It’s important that every road remains safe. It’s also important that we have sustainable supplies of salt for what is the longest period of bad weather for 30 years.”

The Federation of Small Businesses said that the Government had not learnt from last winter’s snow. Its chairman, John Wright, said: “We need to be better prepared with more salt stocks for roads and better guidance for head teachers on when to close schools.”

Emergency repairs were carried out on the M20 yesterday. Snow restricted lanes on the M5, M4 and M32. Several roads were closed because of fresh snowfall, including the A66 in Cumbria and the A67 in Co Durham. The A628 in Derbyshire was closed, as were the M48 Severn Bridge and many roads in the Highlands. Train operators said that one in three trains on a pared-back service was running late and 4 per cent were cancelled yesterday morning. Commuter services run by Southern and South West Trains were badly hit. There was a reduced service on the East Coast Main Line between London and Leeds and rail replacement services in Scotland. London Overground services were also disrupted.

Gatwick airport was closed until 3.15pm, resulting in the cancellation of more than 100 flights. Heathrow remained open, but almost 300 flights were cancelled. Flights from London City Airport, Birmingham International and Cardiff were delayed.

In Devon the Highways Agency apologised after motorists were stranded on a road where thousands were trapped by ice last year. Cars were abandoned in a tailback lasting six hours on the A38 near Haldon Hill in Exeter.

Police searching for woman who fell into a lake trying to rescue her dog found a body last night. Emergency crews were called to a park in Nazeing, Essex, at 3pm after a passer-by reported seeing a woman falling through the ice. The dog was found safe and well.

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