Is this the “Big society”?

Snow event - December 2010

Grit big society?

Our parish council last night voted to buy one metric ton of grit to clear our roads during future snow and ice events.

Responsibility for clearing roads rests with the local highway authority, Devon County Council. There is one main road into the village – 1 3/4 miles from a through route. Our road is not on the primary network of routes, prioritised by Devon CC for clearance. That’s despite the road being a bus route and the presence of a school in the village. We’ve been fairly lucky this year: twice our road was gritted and ploughed so that we were cut off for no more than 24 hours.

Yet, the main road is but one of several routes within the parish. Most outlying homes were cut off for up to 10 days in the December snows. Add to that, Devon CC now say that salt stocks are so low that it will only treat primary routes if there is further icy weather in January.

Faced with a bleak picture and hardship and disruption to farms and isolated homes, the parish council considered the self-help option. The chairman proposed buying the salt for about £160+VAT. He has sorted out a place to store the salt. The plan would be to get local residents to take responsibility for the road near their property.

From the point of view of limiting the chances of being cut off, it is a good plan. It’s good too to see community spirit to tackle a community problem. You’ve got to like the “just do it” spirit.

On the other hand, the highway authority should grit and plough. The authority provides a couple of dozen grit bins in the parish and fills them.

Taking local responsibility has significant short and long term implications.

Who takes the risk? Residents or the parish council? Or, does that still rest with county?

If the community takes the risk and the responsibility, how long before county pulls back completely? Would that be a bad thing?

Other services? Should we reopen local rubbish tips?

If this is the big society, there’s some big questions for us, as a community. Are we in a position – in our splendid isolation – to answer?

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