By Marcus Leach
As thousands of gritters hit the nation's roads, council leaders are urging residents not to let urban myths stop them from making their own streets and pavements safe.
People are also being encouraged to call in on elderly neighbours with forecasters predicting the coldest temperatures so far this winter will grip the nation this week.
Motorists are being advised to check the latest weather and gritting updates on council websites and ‘gritter Twitter' feeds, as well as refresh themselves on winter driving guidance and what to stock in their car. Information about school closures and bin collections is also being updated regularly online.
Thousands of new grit bins have been placed in estates and side streets, residents have been given their own bags of salt along with salt spreaders in some neighbourhoods, and arrangements have been made with parish councils, community groups, snow wardens and farmers to grit hard-to-reach areas.
There is no law against people clearing pavements or public spaces. Ministers have repeatedly welcomed public-spiritedness and said common sense, benefit of the doubt in favour of helpfulness and a responsibility on people to tread carefully in slippery conditions should prevail in the face of complaints. Many council websites carry advice on clearing pavements.
This winter town halls stockpiled about 1.4 million tonnes of salt — more than was used through all of last winter. They have also invested in new fleets of GPS-tracked gritting trucks, snow ploughs and specialist vehicles for narrow and hilly streets. Some are also using new types of salt and methods of spreading it to make supplies last longer.
"Councils have got more salt this year along with better plans to use it and new technology to make it go further," Cllr Peter Box, Chairman of the LGA's Economy and Transport Board, said.
"They're receiving up-to-the minute reports from weather experts and our gritting teams are on standby around-the-clock. Highways, street cleaning and park staff could also be drafted in to help clear snow and ice around places like shops, schools and sheltered accommodation.
"Some staff have even learned to drive 4x4s to help out if needed. Residents can trust their council is doing all it can to keep roads open and traffic flowing, and rely on its website for the latest information.
"Keeping the country moving is a community effort. Councils treat as many roads as they can and have also installed and filled thousands of extra grit bins for people living in side streets, villages and housing estates. Parish councils, community groups and snow wardens have volunteered to grit hard-to-reach areas and farmers will be helping out on country lanes.
"There's nothing to stop residents from clearing their own pavements and those of their neighbours too. Every winter councils receive hundreds of calls from people asking whether they can be sued if they clear a pavement and then someone falls over. Both councils and Government ministers actively encourage public-spiritedness and a common sense approach, and these litigation fears are usually based on misleading or entirely bogus stories.
"Council staff will be delivering hot meals, collecting prescriptions, delivering portable heaters, defrosting pipes, and arranging basic checks on residents they know are vulnerable to make sure they're okay.
"But they can't be everywhere and they rely on community-minded residents to look out for each other. Just a quick knock on the door of an elderly neighbour who's perhaps too proud or unable to ask for help can make all the difference. They may just need an extra blanket getting down from the loft or perhaps they didn't get out to collect their medicine this week. Postmen, milkmen and paperboys can also be life-savers by ringing the bell if they notice something unusual."
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