Council says freak conditions to blame for ice chaos on the roads

Shetland Islands Council has defended its road-gritting efforts following a spate of accidents and treacherous driving conditions this morning caused by sheet ice.

Hundreds of school children and commuters were delayed or prevented from travelling due to the problems, which included buses, lorries and even a gritter sliding off the road.

The local authority denied accusations that the problems were caused by its cutbacks to the road treatment service, which came into effect earlier this month. Instead it blamed exceptional circumstances caused by rain washing off the previous evening’s salt then freezing to cause black ice.

Infrastructure director Phil Crossland said conditions like those of this morning happened “regularly” in other places but were relatively rare in Shetland. He said no roads authority could treat for all climatic conditions.

“Gritters were out again this morning at 6am. However, even on our most heavily used routes the salt took some time to work. There have also been showers across the north of Shetland this morning with rain freezing on contact with cold roads, which has compounded the problems being experienced.”

A school bus heading to Aith Junior High was reported to have gone off the road in the West Side while another bus was off between Voe and Mossbank.

Council vehicles were off the road too. A gritter slipped across the single-track road in Aith while at Catfirth a refuse lorry skidded and blocked the main road out of South Nesting until it was recovered.

One of the worst hit areas was the roads through Voe where long tailbacks developed and a number of accidents occurred.

One of the owners of the shop at Tagon in Voe said it took 50 minutes for him to get to work from Mulla, just a few hundred metres away, because a bus and a lorry were stuck on the main road at the bottom of the hill. As other vehicles slowly passed it they were hitting problems on the ice themselves.

The rush-hour traffic from the north eventually made its way to Lerwick behind a gritter.

The police issued a warning shortly after 8am about the ice on the main road at Voe. They said the road was partially blocked due to minor accidents and was only passable with extreme care. All main roads and side roads in the Voe area were described by the police as “treacherous” while roads elsewhere in Shetland required drivers to exercise caution.

Many travellers were unable to get in or out of Muckle Roe. Bus drivers in the North Mainland reported “terrible” conditions on some of the side roads.

“It’s just a nightmare,” said one driver who had been in several side roads with buses.

A number of people were furious about the problems. On Facebook people were warning about the lives of children and workers being put at risk by poor gritting in some areas.

Some have been quick to blame the council cutbacks which are intended to save £418,000 from the £1.4 million winter roads maintenance budget.

Responding to the criticisms today Mr Crossland said: “The problems are not associated with the recent decision following the winter maintenance review. It also needs to be borne in mind that we are still treating a larger proportion of our roads then the Scottish average.”

He continued: “Our teams pre-salted roads as normal between three and six pm yesterday evening as a result of the weather forecast. But overnight rain appears to have dispersed the salt. Temperatures dropped rapidly, and standing water froze quickly, producing black ice.”

The new policy, which took effect on 12th November, is not meant to affect main roads and loop roads during the week where gritting gets under way at 6am. But loop roads, Lerwick, Scalloway and side roads will not be pre-salted the previous evening.


Add Your Comment
  • Gordon Harmer

    • November 30th, 2012 13:35

    Its not the councils new gritting policy to blame, it’s the “freak weather conditions”. Yeah we don’t usually get frost or below zero temperatures in these tropical islands.

  • Julie Dennison

    • November 30th, 2012 13:55

    That’s rubbish, the cutbacks are definitely one of the key factors! The school bus couldn’t get into Muckle Roe this morning because the council decided that not gritting the road anymore was a good idea. We now have piles of grit at the roadside to throw onto the road ourselves. Muckle Roe is absolutely treacherous without grit, what were the council thinking?!

  • Tommy Robertson

    • November 30th, 2012 14:35

    This is exactly what happens the first frosty morning every year, people have such short memories.

    A few people have problems (very few, considering the thousands who commute all over the islands every day, many before gritting time, as has always been the case) and immediately its the councils fault.

    Nobody is responsible for any accident other than the driver themselves, period. If you can’t handle a car on snow/ice, stay home.

    Where has common sense gone? Everyone could see the rain had washed ff the pre-grit, everyone knows ice forms more readily in certain places, salt grit doesn’t magically make the ice go away it takes time to work and sometimes the temperatures and conditions mean no amount would make any difference.

    Come on folk, the council do a lot of silly things but the gritting service, even with the new alterations, is still second to none.

  • John Morris

    • November 30th, 2012 14:46

    No, “freak conditions” is simply not a plausible excuse for all the difficulty on the roads today. The choice to cut gritting services is a serious one, potentially risking people’s lives. The council needs to be accountable for that choice, and provide the public with a much more detailed explanation of which gritting services were cut and why those cuts didn’t impact the safety of driving conditions today.

  • Amy McCarthy

    • November 30th, 2012 14:51

    Right, its the SIDE ROADS that need Gritting. maybe if you stopped spending money on un-necessary things .e.g. Golf courses, mareel. Maybe we wouldnt have run out of money and be stuck in the position that we are in. Now, several vehicles have been stuck, or gone off road, buses have come off the road aswel, causing school kids, and the public to put up with your mistakes.

  • Maggie Flockhart

    • November 30th, 2012 14:52

    This bodes really well for busing more children round the islands if the council continue with their ridicules plans to close schools. What a shame today wasn’t the day that councillors were on one of the routes to see for themselves what it is they are asking children to go through twice a day five days a week. Surely they will come to their senses and look at other ways to save money. As for the lack of gritting, maybe if the SIC recieved notification from drivers that they were suing for damage done to their vehicles and lost money from their wages for being late/unable to get to work, the SIC might see their decision not to grit some roads is not workable.

  • Andrew Gibson

    • November 30th, 2012 15:26

    Tommy, you are right about a number of the comments you make, but

    “Nobody is responsible for any accident other than the driver themselves, period. If you can’t handle a car on snow/ice, stay home”

    This one is bordering on stupid and insensitive – ask Barry Copeland of Aberdeenshire (family killed when car skidded on a hydraulic fluid spill in 2008) and I’m sure many more unwary drivers. Also many people have no choice but to get up and make their way to work when I’m sure on a cold and frosty morning, they’d rather stay at home.

  • Sandra Meades

    • November 30th, 2012 16:16

    Whether the Council were responsible for the slippery roads this morning or not, I do not want to be sitting at home on the West Side worrying for well over an hour that my son’s school bus has slipped into a ditch on the long route to or from Lerwick if the Aith school closes! You realise just how much a reality this could be after witnessing the school bus stuck on ice for nearly an hour on a sharp bend just above a drop to the beach in Reawick this morning!

  • Gordon Harmer

    • November 30th, 2012 16:51

    Tommy, wise up a bit this was not the first frosty morning of the year, it is more like the fifth and there where a lot of problems Shetland wide. On the north mainland roads there was no pre-grit to be washed off, I was out at eleven o’clock last night to Hilswick and the un-gritted roads where bad then. This morning the Bardister and Sullom roads where covered in sheet ice because of the lack of salt making life extremely difficult for early morning feeder buses and school buses. What salt was being spread on the main north roads was not worth putting down.

    “Nobody is responsible for any accident other than the driver themselves, period. If you can’t handle a car on snow/ice, stay home”. This statement is utter humbug no one can see black ice on the roads and when the outside temperature gauge in your car reads on the plus side of freezing you would imagine it would be safe to drive with care. Many people did that this morning and encountered problems and the problems were caused by the councils gritting or not gritting policy.

    Salt helps even when there are periods of rain after the salt has been spread because it dissolves into the water and gets sprayed around by passing traffic. but if no salt is spread there is nothing and that is what happened this morning in the north mainland and other parts of Shetland.

    “Come on folk, the council do a lot of silly things but the gritting service, even with the new alterations, is still second to none”. More humbug, councils on the mainland send gritters out at four in the morning so that the roads have had time to clear before workers start their journeys. Plus they spread dry salt which has been stored inside or is covered during storage and this does not clog and block spreaders so that they drive for miles without spreading a drop before they notice. Our councils new policy has the poor gritter driver shutting the spreader down to spread the minimum salt possible and because it is stored outside it is wet it constantly clog the spreader.

    If there had been a serious accident this morning the blame would have been the council for implementing an inadequate gritting policy. Its December, it rains in December, it freezes in December, it some times does both together in December. These are normal Shetland weather conditions for December they are not freak conditions they happen every year. In past years there has been enough salt on the roads for drivers to get from A to B safely with care, not so this year the first year of the councils new gritting policy.

  • Barbara Ford

    • November 30th, 2012 17:44

    We must remember that it is dangerous for the gritters going out to make the roads save.
    In some areas of Scotland gritters work during the night.
    Modern living in Shetland requires people to be out very early and very late every day Monday to Sunday in order to keep businesses and social welfare within the community viable. School transport can’t wait for the gritters, most school routes are the side roads linking to pick up points on main roads or to primary schools.
    The SIC policy of support for the house bound to stay in their own homes means carers driving side roads before gritting starts.
    Do we have to rethink the whole gritting policy or expect increased curtailment of services in poor conditions. Remember anyone missing work has to make up hours lost, take holiday, or unpaid leave. Will employers accept disruptions due to poor a road gritting policy?

  • sean fillingham

    • November 30th, 2012 18:21

    Its going to take the usual somebody getting killed before the Council changes its policy, be warned.
    I have never seen the road from Brae to Voe like that still sliippy at 9am.

    And I noticed in Lerwick and Scalloway the pavements are being gritted.

  • Michael Inkster

    • November 30th, 2012 20:57

    It may indeed be a coincidence that the freak weather conditions have resulted in so many accidents almost immediately following the implementation on the new SIC policy on road gritting. The bottom line, however, is that road safety will ultimately be compromised unless the Council prioritises its spending so as to distinguish between what is desirable and what is essential. Adequate road gritting surely falls into the latter category but I was surprised to learn this morning that the Greenmow road in Cunningsburgh, where one of the accidents (involving a school minibus; incidentally 12 children stay in the Greenmow area) took place, is no longer to be gritted unless snow (as opposed to icy conditions) is forecast and equally surprised to see it gritted following the accident I refer to – who instructed the locking of the stable door or has there been a curious unplanned change of policy? M Inkster

  • Davy Cooper

    • December 1st, 2012 5:56

    I’ve commuted from Mossbank to Lerwick for over 10 years now (I think in that time I’ve witnessed pretty much every “freak” weather condition possible) and have rarely seen the levels of chaos that ensued this morning. Usually such scenes are reserved for heavy and sudden snowfall and not for frosty roads with a relatively fine morning. The roads were certainly not good but I don’t believe they were the worst that I’ve driven on over this 10 year period and very few drivers seemed to be ignoring the obvious risks. Surely it cannot be purely coincidental that we have cut the levels of gritting and then have a spate of road accidents on the first seriously frosty morning thereafter?

    Maybe we have all become complacent because we certainly have had a gritting service “second to none” but this is perhaps an area where cuts need to be monitored very carefully with regard to their obvious direct impact on almost the whole popoulation of the islands. It won’t help our economy to survive if half the workforce sits home every frosty morning because they are too nervous to venture out!

  • Sandy McMillan

    • December 1st, 2012 20:49

    The blame for the state of the roads lies purely with SIC Phil Crossland, he is the top man in that department so there fore responsibility is his, as he is in charge off all roads the length and breadth of Shetland, he actually admits the rain came and melted the salt from the so called pre grit and left the road lying with water, which then had frozen to a degree that it left the roads in a dangerous condition, it does not take a genius to figure this out as was proven by the amount of accidents across Shetland, conditions like these could have be more serious than it was, thank goodness there was no one seriously injured, this idea of PRE GRITTING, is absolutely ludicrous, in the first instance, those so called brains of the SIC roads department should be stood down from there position before there is a fatality, all this over trying to save a penny or two, the winter nights of frost and snow is in its infancy with a lot worse to come what will they do then, I dare not think what stupid idea the SIC will think up next.

  • rhys hughson

    • December 2nd, 2012 10:12

    the council must realise that cutting the gritting service is the single most ridiculous idea ever. They have to realise that it is not the council services that should be cut but perhaps the council personnel that should be cut for example half the staff in hay field house could go along with the ones at sella ness. just a thought

  • Roddy Nicolson

    • December 3rd, 2012 16:31

    I’ve just watched in astonishment a gritter reversing down the Sandsound road, it presumably being too dangerous to move forward because the road in front of it hasn’t been gritted since this cold snap began. I would have found this laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that inevitably somebody(s) will be killed and/or seriously injured due to Shetland Island Councils new non-gritting policy.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • December 3rd, 2012 17:09

    Infrastructure director Phil Crossland, who hails from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Shropshire County Council and Telford & Wrekin Council, ( a notorious part of the country for its harsh winter conditions ). Seems to think that last Friday’s weather conditions “happened regularly in other places but were relatively rare in Shetland”. Yeah these conditions are rare in Shetland in so far as they don’t often occur in June and July. Then he said “no roads authority could treat for all climatic conditions”. Maybe he should go on a council funded trip to Austria where they have extremely warm Summers and extremely cold winters. Where their mountain roads are kept open all the year round, he could learn how to keep our wee bit hilly roads safe for public use.

  • Colin Hunter

    • December 3rd, 2012 19:43

    I have read this article and all the comments with great interest. I actually thought the weather conditions the other night were unusual, in that it was very frosty up til about 11 pm, then it became milder, began to rain, then, apparently (I had gone to bed by then) froze again. That hasn’t happened all that often in my memory, at least, not within that short time frame.
    Also, at no time has anyone mentioned personal responsibility in this attack on council services. While I agree that the council have an obligation to keep roads passable, surely people should also take some precautions of their own, such as the fitment of winter tyres, which go a long way to providing better grip in poor conditions. In many countries, such tyres are actually mandatory when average temperatures fall below 7 deg C, as standard rubber compounds used in “Summer” tyres become hard and perform badly in low temperatures. The tread patterns on such tyres do not offer much purchase on slippery surfaces either.
    I do concede though, that even good winter tyres do not perform well on sheet ice, unless studded, something which used to be common in Shetland in the days before the Council started using salt in preference to plain old “Quarry dust”.
    It would, however, be interesting to know, how many of the vehicles which left the tarmac were so equipped…….or not, as the case may be.

  • James Mackenzie

    • December 3rd, 2012 22:12

    Given that there will always be freak weather conditions, surely the main issue here is the cutting of gritting of ‘side’ or ‘minor’ roads. along which a substantial proportion of the Shetland population live. If people can’t get to the main roads, in order to drive to and from work, and if school buses have to negotiate them in untreated icy conditions, the current SIC policy is simply nonsensical – let alone detrimental to the local economy and to health and safety.

  • Sandy McMillan

    • December 4th, 2012 0:04

    It is not the fault of the Gritter drivers, these guys are our angels sent out with there gritter at all hours of the day and night,seven days a week, It is these guys that sit behind a desk, Phil Crossland and his merry men who send out the gritters, They dont have a clue what conditions are like on the ground, as they get there info from a PC Monitor Screen, at one time they had a foreman from different districts of Shetland who used to Radio back there conditions to another foreman who then told the men either to get the gritters out or not, But i suppose this would be to costly, I say to hell with the cost and get the job done properly, I have also noticed the gritter is not carrying a extra man, I was of the understanding that all gritters would carry a exrta man after a very serious accident a few years ago, These cutbacks are going to cause a fatality, they the SIC Council are getting it all wrong, all that that they are doing is penny pinching,they have to get a grip and think big,

  • Gordon Harmer

    • December 4th, 2012 11:19

    Colin this is not an attack on council services it is an attack on council policy, the guys who deliver the services do a great job. They are at the sharp end and have to implement the policy and they are the ones who get it in the neck from some of the public. I’ve been driving the side roads with feeder and school buses and to be honest they are a disgrace. Whats more if council cuts continue and schools are closed there will be more school buses on untreated side roads in the future.
    This kind of weather is not “freak” or unknown in Shetland, as a truck and bus driver of more than 40 years I have encountered it up here on several occasions.

  • Stewart Mack

    • December 4th, 2012 13:45

    This to me, is typical of SIC senior management, They have eyes yet cannot see! To stop gritting “side roads” in a Shetland winter is, in my view reckless at best and downright dangerous at worst. It does not take the intelect of Einstein to see that when so many of the population live off these “side roads”, chaos will ensue. They are hardly side roads when they serve such a high proportion of the population If this is not reversed there will be serious consequences for some as a result, that wont in my view, be capable of being blamed on “freak” weather conditions. I only prey that no one i know has to attend an enquiry after the event as a result of this utter nonsense. And for what? to save a (relatively) small amount of the Council’s budgets. I would like to see some personal accountability for some of these decisions both from the Councillors and the officials who propose them.All so they can avoid the main issue – The SIC is living outwith its means and seems hell bent on avoiding making the necessary cuts it needs to to address this once and for all. What will we end up with? a SIC full of office staff but no budget to deliver front line services?
    Its an utter disgrace and those involved dont even appear to have the common sense to see they are in the wrong.

  • Stewart Mack

    • December 4th, 2012 14:26

    does anyone know off hand the “savings” made by these cuts? – Just trying to work out what the equivelant would be in staffing terms – Would 1 head of department be enough to make the same savings to the Council?

  • John Inkster

    • December 4th, 2012 15:25

    I believe the gritters have done an excellent job over the years gritting at all hours all over Shetland.

    But surely there has to be more wasteful expenditure in the SIC than the cost of several tonnes of rock salt. It is in fact difficult to imagine a service the SIC provides that for relatively little expenditure, such a large return in the form of an actual tangible output is generated for all in Shetland to benefit from. You could argue it should be the last service to be cut. Almost the whole economic output of Shetland depends on the roads operating normally.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • December 5th, 2012 13:35

    So the council gritted priority three routes yesterday, and they claim their new gritting policy will save money. At one PM yesterday the gritter spread grit along the Bardister road, long after people had gone to work and children to school. At around three PM it started to snow and covered the grit spread earlier, a little later children came home from school and later still people came home from work. They had to drive down a road that was once again slippery and dangerous.

    This morning the road was worse still loose snow on top of ice, with small drifts accumulating along the whole length of the road. Yesterdays gritting was a waste of time, fuel, grit and salt if there was any in mixed among the grit. A great way to save money and make the roads safe for the local residents who pay the same council tax as any one who lives along side a priority one road. I wonder who do these residents apply to for a rebate on their council tax because of this discriminating policy.

    Going back to using grit is a massive step backwards, it does not melt or break up snow or ice it clogs drains ( and gritters spreading it ). If left on the road and not cleaned up it chips windscreens it accumulates in a ridge down the middle of the road waiting to unseat an unsuspecting motorcyclist in the spring and summer. If it is swept up it costs money to do so, so why use it, we had a gritting policy that was not broken so why replace it with this mish mash new policy.

  • Tommy Robertson

    • December 5th, 2012 17:32

    Nothing has changed about the gritting policy other than that no side roads are gritted during short term frosty conditions (during which times they have usually thawed naturally as the day light comes in, and there are fewer gritters so it will take longer to cover everything.

    Some unbelievable ignorance and plain idiocy being posted here. Where were all the complaints when this policy was extensively consulted upon all summer right up until the last few weeks?

    Some basics –

    Rain washed grit off and dilutes salt.
    The council cannot control when, where and how much it rains.
    Snow showers cover grit salt, but both continue working even if the results are not seen ’till a thaw begins.
    The council cannot control when, where and how much it snows.
    Gritters cannot be everywhere at once.

    Of course all this is blindingly obvious, but it seems the blindingly obvious is as invisible to some as the snow and ice on the roads!

  • Maurice Smith

    • December 5th, 2012 18:14

    Allan Wishart spouted at length about exceptional road conditions which don’t occur very often in Shetland – if this is the case, then dealing with them properly and timeously shouldn’t cost a lot of money.

    Who said the “toon” versus “country” attitude is a thing of the past?

    Maurice J Smith

  • Gordon Harmer

    • December 5th, 2012 19:49

    Tommy maybe you didn’t notice but it didn’t snow during the summer and it didn’t start freezing until a few weeks ago. Consultations mean nothing as far as gritting policy goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and this pudding tastes vile.
    You need to go back to basics as your “some basics” are basically wrong.

    Some facts –

    Rain does not wash all grit off the road it stays there and forms a ridge down the center of the road creating a hazard for motorcyclists in the spring and summer and is costly to remove. It is also thrown up by passing cars chipping and cracking windscreens not to mention blocking drains in built up areas which are costly to clear.

    Rain washes some salt off the road and dilutes the rest which is soaked up by the porous road surface creating a residue to act against snow and frost should it return. This action also helps to protect against the formation of pot holes as the soaked up water does not freeze and expand causing expensive to repair holes in the road.

    Snow showers cover salt which goes on working dispersing snow with the help of moving traffic before the thaw begins ( a thaw could take weeks to occur ).

    Nobody can control how much, where and when it snows but the council could and should be ready for it when it happens especially with accurate forecasting.

    If there were enough gritters and drivers they could be every where at once, they certainly seemed to be in previous years when the drivers where allowed to get on with the job without interference from busy bodies behind desks.

    Every thing has changed about the gritting policy, they are using a mixture of salt and grit, they are spreading less than they did, five days is not a short term period for side roads. Maybe you would like to go to the Bardister road and tell the one inch thick ice it should not be there it was supposed to thaw with daylight.

    Your statement is only blindingly obvious to those who do not want to see and are blind to common sense. “Some unbelievable ignorance and plain idiocy being posted here”, never a truer word said, eh Tommy.

  • Tommy Robertson

    • December 6th, 2012 0:10

    @ Gordon Harmer – If you had had any real experience of what happens in reality as opposed to popular myth, or just applied some common sense to some of what you say, you would see how silly it is.

    Salt/Grit mix has always been used, nothing new there, and spread rates are the same as they always have been. In fact far more is available than has been for years with the piles back at the roadsides.

    What I would like to know is – why all this fuss now? Where were all those with so much to say when we were all being asked?

  • Gordon Harmer

    • December 7th, 2012 12:33

    Tommy you must be the official spin doctor for the councils infrastructure and roads department because you came with the same answer as Dave Coupe to the amount of salt used, you both called it a myth.

    Tommy the fact is a couple of years ago the gritters spread 80 grams per square meter of mix and now they spread 20 grams per square meter of mix. In the past on the first gritting on main roads it used to be 40 grams per square meter of salt and now it is 25 grams of salt per square meter. If that is not a reduction I do not know what is. Also in the past if weather conditions declared it the gritter driver could spread what was needed and where it was needed at his own discretion. But the desk jockeys have removed that discretion element from the experienced men at the sharp end of the gritting process.

    Let’s imagine anyone who worked for the council and lived alongside a category three country road was not provided with correct PPE for the job they were doing. While workers who lived alongside a category one road were issued with the correct PPE for the job they were doing. What would happen if the Health and Safety Executive were informed, would the council get away with saying the category three workers don’t get issued with the correct PPE as this is council policy. You can bet your sweet bippy the council would not get away with it they would be prosecuted for having such a discriminating policy. There is not a lot of difference between the above and the council’s new gritting policy.


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