Friday 8 January 2010

The Ice Man Cometh

After my petulant outbursts yesterday about Bristol City Council's failure to deal with hazardous pavement icing, even when specifically reported to them, there was the usual exchange of jibes on Twitter which resulted in Cllr Jon Rogers (Executive Member for Transport & Sustainability no less - below) challenging me to go out with him there and then and spread some grit.

I could hardly refuse and so for 40 minutes or so after 9 p.m. passers-by on Queen's Road, Clifton, were entertained by the sight of two scruffy middle-aged men scrabbling around grit bins like tramps scavenging dog ends. We quickly emptied one of the two local grit bins but the grit in the other was rock solid and unusable. Still we managed to deal with the worst sections of the footway and it was gratifying to see that people immediately started to follow our line of grit over the ice (visible to my right below). One even said thank you!

So that's what can be achieved with a bit of gumption. Jon Rogers' has a lot of that, it has to be said. He even lectured me on how to walk on the roads against the oncoming traffic to avoid having to use slippery pavements, explaining that you don't give way until you see the whites of their eyes! And I thought I was the militant one. To Jon even the snow and ice is an opportunity to assert a new paradigm for the concept of sharing the roads. I'm all for that.


Jon Rogers said...

Thanks Chris - it was fun!

I will reprint part of my comment on an earlier thread...

On a personal note (not council policy!) I know it is a bit anarchic, but can I suggest that where pavements are slippery and dangerous, but the roads are gritted and clear that people walk carefully along the gritted edge of the road towards oncoming traffic, so they can move onto the slush at the side if necessary.

I walked from St Andrews to Clifton last night and walked on the road the whole way, stepping aside if necessary, but my experience was that cars, lorries, taxis and buses slowed and passed me carefully often with a friendly, understanding wave!

Certainly here in St Andrews, families are walking safely down the middle of snowy roads, and cars are slowing and passing carefully.

It is what people do in the country when you are walking or cycling on narrow lanes.


The Bristol Blogger said...

I had the dubious pleasure of walking into town yesterday via Temple Meads.

South of the station, the pavements were dangerous and ungritted.

But more strangely North of the station, heading up Victoria Street, the pavements were sheets of compacted ice.

I went over once and nearly went over four or five other times.

Luckily I'm (reasonably) young and fit so can still just about balance myself and can get up again with no breaks if I do fall over.

It seems strange that a major pedestrian commuter route should be in this state.

We're advised to not use cars but walking routes are impassable.

harryT said...

There are no shortage of Ambulance Chasers in this city. If people want the Council to act on this, the way to do so is to claim for any injuries sustained.

The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 (section 111) has inserted an additional section 41(1) to the Highways Act 1980 which places a duty on Highway Authorities in respect of winter conditions, as follows:-

"a Highway Authority is under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice'.

The "highway" includes both the carriegeway and the footway. Yet this Council only abides by its duty to the carriegeway users.

A failure to grit busy footways 3 days after snowfall is in breach of duty. Any one suffering an injury as a result can sue for compensation.

Dru Marland said...

Well done, Jon and Chris!

Dan Martin said...

Good on you both for getting out there and taking some action but Bristol City Council should be doing so much more.

I'm editor of, part of Sift Media - an online publisher based in Bristol since 1996. We've started the #GritForBristol campaign on Twitter to force BCC into doing something about the icey roads and paths!

Join in! Lots of people are:

Chris Hutt said...

Thanks Dru. It was actually good fun. We all ought to organise ice clearing parties!

HarryT, if everyone followed your advice the Council would be inundated with claims and we tax payers would have to pick up a massive bill. Great thinking.

As you say the highway includes footway and carriageweay, but when there is no footway available pedestrians have an equal right to use the carriageway. So arguably the gritted highways provide safe passage for all users.

The 'so far as is reasonably practicable' bit is important. There is only so much grit available, not sufficient to cover all roads for a sustained period. So it is manifestly not reasonably practical for the Council to deal with all roads including footways.

I'm sure the only sensible way to deal with this crisis is for everyone to muck in and do their bit. I know there's a huge cultural resistance to doing something for the common good, but actually doing it , especially in the company of others, is surprisingly satisfying.

woodsy said...

I too join Dru in commending you & Jon for your public-spirited action. Well done.

harryT said...

I'm afraid I disagree with you Chris and strongly.

There are people with serious injuries as a result of this. They will not be able to work. They will not be able to look after themselves. Why should they bear the cost of this ?

The Council has the burden to show that all reasonably practicable measures are taken. Telling people to walk in the road is not compliance with that duty. There is grit around. It is simply the case (as you have pointed out) that the council has chosen not to instruct its staff to distribute this on the footways.

harryT said...

And Chris, I never argued that all footways need to be gritted. But leaving heavily used footways covered with ice 3 days after snowfall is a disgrace. Calling for a citizen's army is not a reaslitic response.

The Bristol Blogger said...

Despite living in one of the hilliest parts of Bristol - there were 22 car prangs in one hour at the bottom of our street on the morning of the first cold and snow snap before Christmas - our grit bin is empty!

It's also at the bottom of the hill, which makes gritting the top of the hill a bit tricky.

I also don't have a wheelbarrow.

It's all well and good saying muck in but you need the tools to do the job.

At present there are elderly, disabled and people with young kids stranded here. They can't even get to Tescos (normally a five minute walk) because of the state of the pavements and they can't use a car because of the state of the immediate residential roads.

Well done to Jon and Chris, by the way.

harryT said...

Sorry. did not mean to deride your own volunteer efforts, which are to be commended Chris.

Its just that this city spends £100,000s on keeping its corporate citizens happy and similar sums on unecessary managerial staff.

It is under a "statutory duty" to deal with ice and snow and it does not seem inclined to abide by it.

Chris Hutt said...

Clearly the Council need to pull themselves together and start treating this as a serious crisis. Staff need to be reallocated away from less urgent matters (like designing crap cycling facilities for example). Grit bins need to be filled, grit needs to be deposited where members of the public offer to spread it.

But even if the Council had a highly paid Chief Executive capable of organising all this (which they manifestly haven't, except for the highly paid bit) they couldn't possibly deal with such an extensive crisis.

The state is just too slow to respond to these situations. But individuals can respond quickly, given some support (at least in being absolved of legal responsibility to subsequent mishaps) and supplies of grit.

Jon Rogers challenged my cynicism last night and he demonstrated what can be achieved if we change the way we think. We can all do the same. Take control of your lives. Tell the lawyers and paper pushers where to stick it.

Or just sit back and complain that the state is just an ineffectual, self-serving bureaucracy, which incidentally it always has been and always will be.

Paul said...

Congratulations Jon and Chris. A job well done.

Docsavage (with a sore knee) said...

this morning the grit bin on broad plain / river street was solid. an elderly lady was attempting to get grit out but had great trouble, (she was carrying it back to Braggs lane to help sort the cobbled area there, this was her nearest bin?) she said no-one had offered to help. and she had been challenged over taking grit from it (the council depot is about 100 yards away)
Also on my way in, the sight of two council employees sprinkling grit on the footbridge and ramp over the M32. the thing was they had left the other side untouched so you could go up in safety and slide down the other side?

and if anyone from the council is reading, go sort out lower ashley hill, or get grit there pronto.

I've slipped and slithered down there repeatedly this week and finally came to grief today, managing to nicely twist my knee.

Unknown said...

Good stuff and well done for not sitting about and sinmply complaining about the icey conditions on our footpaths. I always admire people who put their convictions into action like you both did.

I also feel that, where possible, people should take responsibility for the area outside of where they live, our foot paths would be in a much better condition if we all spread abit of grit where it is most needed.

Looks like more snow on the way.


Chris Hutt said...

Thanks Paul, Harry, BB and all, but actually doing it was n obig deal.

It was overcoming the mental block that says 'it's not my responsibility - the council should do it' that was difficult. After all we pay our taxes and naively expect to get decent services provided in return.

But when they are confronted by a remotely 'new' problem, like how best to provide for cyclists on our roads (which has only been an issue for 30 years!) the Council simply can't cope. They can only do what they did the decade before, which in the case of dealing with persistent snow and ice is nothing, since there wasn't any to speak of.

The Bristol Blogger said...

"I also feel that, where possible, people should take responsibility for the area outside of where they live, our foot paths would be in a much better condition if we all spread abit of grit where it is most needed."

This is perfectly true. But we have no grit.

I started clearing a pavement yesterday but quickly concluded that getting rid of the thick ice left a thin layer of ice on the pavement that was more dangerous.

Chris is correct to say the council can't deal with such a crisis alone but then nor can we.

And at present it's their call ...

David Cox said...

Well done for doing your bit. I put my (post office issue) boot chains on and cleared the pavements in my road, and checked on elderly neighbours. Several people commented that I could be sued for clearing away the snow or ice away, none could give any actual examples about it ever happening. People complain about the nanny state, yet expect the ‘state’ in some form or other to sort out just about everything for them, using the flimsiest of health and safety excuses to do nothing themselves. Millions of people in other European countries quite happily clear the snow from outside their own homes and shops at winter time, probably explains why they have a greater sense of community.

harryT said...

David - You cannot be sued for clearly snow and ice from public pavements. You owe no duty so cannot be in breach of it.

However, none of this gets away from the fact that the Council is obliged by statute to clear the snow and ice from the pavements and is not bothering to do so.

It is only the Council's failures that have led to citizen's attempts to do it for them. If we start to see this as our job, then when do we start cleaning up the pigeon shit.

If only Steve Lansdown had asked the council to clear the pavements, then we would see some action.

Dru Marland said...

I remove the snow from the pavement outside my house at the earliest opportunity after it has fallen, and usually when the local fox is the only creature to have left its tracks on the street. It's very easy to shovel away then; leave it until it's compacted, and it's well-nigh impossible to do anything without grit...

Chris Hutt said...

My experience is the same. Before the snow is compacted by being walked on it is very easy to sweep aside with a stiff brush. But as soon as it's trodden down it becomes stubborn and needs some heavy duty bashing.

So I attempt to clear snow before it gets downtrodden, but of course such flexibility in response is not easy to reconcile with regular job commitments. So I typically do a bit more than my share. Unfortunately almost nobody else does, but we have to start somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Refuse and black box collections go to every address in the city - if at the start of winter they delivered a small bag of grit to each house then everyone would have enough to grit a clearway in front of their house / business. It wouldn't take people much effort to do and you wouldn't need tools. The recycling collectors are going to these premisies anyway so it wouldn't be much extra work. The grit could be replenished after icy periods. Or maybe that's too simple?

The Bristol Blogger said...

I'm amazed anyone takes any notice of these ealth 'n' safety/PC myths. Even if it were true why would you care?

The Daily Mail seems to make up some crap to fill in some space and people seem to believe it.

I once worked somewhere where they thought you weren't allowed to apply plasters on cuts, mind.

It was difficult to persuade them otherwise despite nobody being able to produce a scrap of evidence for their belief.

MJ Ray said...

So it's a myth? If so, why are so many bits of government perpetuating it?

This from Norfolk County Council:
"9. If I spread salt from a grit bin, am I liable if someone has an accident?

Salt bins are provided as a "self-help facility" and are placed in locations where difficulties are likely to be experienced by users of the highway. They enable local residents and passing motorists to spread salt on the carriageway and footway within the locality of the bins should they experience difficulties. The salt is replenished by the local authority but the spreading of the salt by local residents and others is carried out at their own risk." (emphasis added)

Here it is from the House of Lords: "My Lords, the noble Lord has lighted upon a difficult issue in terms of the law. No householder is at all responsible provided he does not touch the pavement, which after all is owned by the local authority. The moment the householder touches the pavement with a view to improving the situation, but takes action that may lead to a deterioration, his action may render him culpable. That is the difficulty that we face."

It's time the law was changed but Harriet Harman refused to fix this law yesterday. You can clean your own forecourt safely, but not the public pavement.

Chris Hutt said...

I think our current predicament exposes the corrosive nature of this 'health n safety' obsession. We are rendered impotent as a society because we all live in fear of each other, a fear which translates into suspicion hostility, isolation and aggression.

By nature we are social animals and risk-taking animals. We should engage those faculties on a regular basis or we set up problems for ourselves, individually and socially, just as we do by not exercising our minds or bodies. For me that's one of the joys of cycling, engaging with my risk taking capabilities.

Dru Marland said...

Me again. Apparently (I have been advised) on Wednesday Radio Brizzle was advising people not to clear their pavements for fear of litigation. While I have long felt (in a deeply caring sort of way) that Radio Brizzle is the place where brain cells go to die, perhaps it's time someone Had A Word with 'em....

Anonymous said...

The council's gardeners used to grit paths, but now they are told the litigation threat means it can't be done.

Of course when it snows they can't do anything much else anyway, why haven't they been sent out to clear strategic paths? Rather than paid to do nothing?

harryT said...

MJ Ray and Chris

You are entirely 100% wrong. What we live in fear of is the media myth of litigation. We do not live in fear of health and safety law, which is largely if not entirely beneficial. Do you want to return us to a victorian society where the majority of the population live in fear on injury ?

The statements that clearing ice and snow from paving may render someone liable is a myth - being pushed opportunisticly by politicians. It is also pushed by insurance companies to (a) increase sales of insurance and (b) to bring pressue to bear to reduce claims.

There is no law which might be breached by the public clearing snow.

There is no law for Harriet Harman to change. She cannot refuse to change something which does not exist.

There is no case where anyone has even sought to argue it.

Myth myth myth myth myth.

Now stop spreading myths and get back to spreading grit

harryT said...


You are also wrong.

Council workers are under a statutory obligation to clear snow and ice. Its called the Highways Act 1980.

Anyone who tells you it is against the law is either malicious or ignorant.

Why do so many of you wish to spread this nonsense.

Jon Rogers said...

Thanks for all the comments!

The advice I have had on council legal liability is "to keep Highways free from snow and ice within the constraints of resources.

"Nationally it is accepted that having resources to deal with main roads and bus routes is acceptable.

The key phrase in HarryT's comment above on the Highways Act is therefore "so far as is reasonably practicable"

Jon Rogers said...

Dan Martin suggests that "Bristol City Council should be doing so much more."

It is a remarkably complex area. I have had several officer briefings and there are no "quick fixes" and with grit running low nationally, I guess things may get worse.

For example officers report that "In a normal season 700t of Rock Salt is used. Last winter 1400t were used, this winter we have just [8th Jan] passed the 1400t mark in Bristol"

More details on

There is a possibility, with climate change, that these harsher winters may become the norm for Bristol, and we do need to think again about how we might improve services.


Chris Hutt said...

Harry T "What we live in fear of is the media myth of litigation. We do not live in fear of health and safety law, which is largely if not entirely beneficial."

Yes, I accept that I made that common error of confusing fear of litigation with health and safety.

"Do you want to return us to a victorian society where the majority of the population live in fear of injury?"

Isn't it the case that cyclists generally live in fear of injury? If you ask people why they don't cycle they will usually cite fear of injury. So we already have that situation.

Harry, if someone poored hot water on a path to melt the snow and the water subsequently froze to produce a sheet of ice, would they not have (inadvertently) created a greater hazard than had previously existed and wouldn't they then be liable for consequent damages?

Obviously if someone completely clears snow and ice from a path and returns the path to its normal state they cannot be liable for any damages arising from the normal state of the path, but if they partly clear a path and in so doing leave the path in an arguably more dangerous condition would they not then be liable?

Finally you quoted the Highway Act before as saying "a Highway Authority is under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice". Wouldn't the Council argue that they were doing all that is "reasonably practical"?

Jon Rogers said...

The Bristol Blogger pointed out people will help, but that in his area (and indeed many others), "This is perfectly true. But we have no grit."

This is true. I am told that "Grit Bins are provided at a number of locations for residents to spread grit from.

"These are replenished in the winter season but this year it is proving difficult due to the total refills required and the difficulties in getting to the bins.

"The grit is being barrowed from the nearest access point.

"Each bin takes a third of a ton of grit; rock salt is not used due to its propensity to go solid in about a month.

On the basis of several reports here and Chris and my experience on Queens Road last night, I would say that some bins do have a solid lump of rock salt in them.

We need better mechanisms of filling and replenishing. We need better mechanisms of reporting empty bins. (people are already using

We also need to review sites. I understand that some bins do appear to have been stolen!

The interactive map of grit bins needs updating. Another job once current crisis is resolved.

Anonymous said...

I'll see your 40 minutes and raise you two hours.

Jon Rogers said...

Anonymous suggests, "The council's gardeners used to grit paths, but now they are told the litigation threat means it can't be done."

I trust this is another urban myth, but I will check. Common sense and good practice must not be prevented by unwarranted legal threats.

matthewc said...

MJ Ray,
I'm not sure your Norfolk County Council quote is too relevant
"the spreading of the salt by local residents and others is carried out at their own risk."

Surely what they are saying is you can't sue Norfolk County Council if you injure yourself whilst spreading salt, not that Norfolk County Council is going to sue you for spreading salt yourself...

matthewc said...

I'm not clear what the SITA street cleansing operatives are currently contracted to do in terms of gritting pavements, but I've been in touch with BCC Waste and Street Scene who have assured me that gritting is being carefully looked at in drawing up terms of the new street cleansing contract which will be going out to tender and due to come into operation in 2011.

Chris Hutt said...

Interesting item on salt/grit from LGA -

Anonymous said...

What about getting SITA operatives out to grit streets while its too dangerous to operate their waste and recycling vehicles (see BCC website)? This would keep them gainfully employed whilst other services cannot be delivered. The state of roads around the city is bad currently, particularly where hilly side roads meet main roads - e.g. side roads descending onto Gloucester Rd. This is all about the Council deploying resources flexibly during a time of crisis and ensuring that the lives of old, disabled and vulnerable residents are made as comfortable as possible in current circumstances. Apparently, the Council has asked for employees with their own 4x4 vehicles to volunteer to deliver meals on wheels and other social services, so it is not beyond the realms of positive thinking to re-deploy street operatives to assist in sorting the current problem.

Anonymous said...

Just saw Matthew's comment above - whilst the contract revision for 2011 may offer a solution, there is possibly a matter of goodwill here - maybe the Exec member for waste services (G Hopkins?) could use his influence with SITA? If these guys get out and assist in sorting pavements they will be treated like heroes across bristol!!

Chris Hutt said...

In case anyone hasn't seen the latest on the Bristol Traffic blog teams of what look at SITA operatives were spotted out clearing snow and ice.

MJ Ray said...

Until someone shows evidence the other way, I'm going to believe our council's officer who claims first-hand knowledge of a civil case when he was in West Somerset, rather than pseudonymous blog commenters claiming such cases don't exist.

@matthewc - I think the Norfolk CC quote isn't perfectly clear but seems relevant: look at the question asked. It wasn't asking "if I hurt myself gritting, can I sue the council?"

@HarryT - there's no criminal law, but there does seem to be a civil liability if you clear someone else's path. The Lords debate suggests that you have to clear the path back to its pre-snowfall state and I rarely achieve that. Surely the threshhold for liability could be relaxed somehow?

harry T said...

MJ Ray

I did not say so in my previous post, but you have grossly misquoted the House of Lords debate. A peer asking a question on Hansard appeared as the same peer giving an answer on your post ????

Further, a Hansard debate is not a source of law. Further, it does not say what you claim it says.

There is no civil liability attaching to individuals seeking to clear public paths. There have been no cases. I cannot prove there are none because I cannot find anything. But, I do not see in what way anyone could even be sued.

The Council remains liable for any failure to clear the Highway. Why would anyone even bother suing a householder?

I cannot prove my legal qualifications to you but they are far higher than a frend's friend who seems to recall something when he worked for a different council.

Its a myth.

J said...


Well done to both of you, That is the spirit.

I would love to do somthing similar and was discussing this with my two elderly neighbours the other day but unfortunatly unlike Clifton, St Andrews etc. Easton has no grit bins.

Maybe somthing to consider.

Anonymous said...


The council grit bin map suggests there are 11 grit bins around Easton, between Whitehall Road, Gordon Road, Stapleton Road & the M32, with more in Eastville, St. George, Lawrence Hill & other neighbouring areas. Hopefully they're not all empty!

Chris Hutt said...

And it's not the case that Clifton has a lot of grit bins. A few near Queens Road, a few near Blackboy Hill and a couple near the Bowns, but absolutely nothing between those areas, even on roads with a fair gradient.

Gary Hopkins said...

On the point of SITA staff being used for gritting-
They are . In fact the overnight gritting is done by SITA drivers and a lot of the other crews are redeployed as well.
Attende "snow meeting" this morning(daily event at the moment)with reps from all depts feeding in on position and actions.
There are constraints on some further actions
Salt/grit Some supplies in hand but some prudently ordered in advance not delivered. (national government now involved.)
The can do flexible attitude is patchy with our organisation but is improving its spread.Emergencies certainly sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Some potential preparations would not have been proportionate.
As an example officers relate a tale from 20+years ago when after a hard winter snow blowing machines were bought. Guess what they never got used.

Much more to say later on community mobilisation.

MJ Ray said...

@Harry T: the more relevant quote from later in the same debate is "if people completely, utterly and totally clear away all the snow and return the pavement to the condition it was in before the snow landed, they will have done an excellent job. I am sure that all conscientious citizens do that. That is why any cases brought against householders in such circumstances are very few and far between. I merely reflected that if the snow is cleared in a less than complete manner and ice is left which is more dangerous than the original covering of snow, it may not necessarily be the local authority that is responsible but the householder for having dealt with the matter inadequately."

While the Lords is not itself definitive, I would expect any member who misled the House to correct it later, which doesn't seem to have happened for that.

So, the law is probably as explained, and there are some cases, although few.

Beyond that, I'm following up our officer's (not "a friend's friend") information, to verify whether there is a case or a rumour at the bottom of it, but it looks like it might take a FoIA request to get details, so about a month.

MJ Ray said...

OK, so it has ended up in a FoIA request which you can watch at

You might also like this one asking BCC for their advice or this one asking Lewisham for their even more scared stance of refusing to provide grit bins

J said...


Thanks bristle. You are however relying on the council being correct (the map last being updated in 2007 . After a quick canvas on the way to the school no one else has ever seen one empty or otherwise.

Since my post though A shiny new grit bin has appeared at the ramp to the cycle path and was promptly emptied by local residents trying to get it to streets that needed it.

It also seems that the Residents of Easton are not alone

As the snow has now gone it is now a mute point and will probably stay one until next year.