Winter Road Maintenance In Highland
12 November 2001

Caithness Community Web Site     Trunk Road Contract Concerns 23 November News Index


A post mortem into the disruption on trunk roads in Highland caused by the first snowfall of winter has highlighted the inadequacy of the contractor, BEAR Scotland, to cope with even a "routine" winter incident.

The Highland Council Convener David Green concluded that BEAR Scotland had failed the first test of winter and they needed to urgently review their procedures to avoid a repetition.

He is writing to Scottish Transport Minister Sarah Boyack to highlight the concern of the public, who complained bitterly at the failure of BEAR Scotland to dedicate adequate resources to combatting the ice and clearing subsequent snow.

He wrote to Ms Boyack in September to register the council’s concerns about winter maintenance on trunk roads as the result of the award of the contract to BEAR Scotland. In that letter, he detailed the "hot spots", which included the A 9 across the Causewaymire; the A 9 between Helmsdale – Dunbeath, particularly at the Ord of Caithness; and the A 9 South, particularly at the Slochd and between Newtonmore and Blair Atholl.

He said: "It is obvious from the considerable volume of complaints received by the council that BEAR did not adequately respond to Thursday’s snowfall. It is accepted that the conditions were unpleasant. There was ice, snow and winds. But these were well forecast and could not be compared to the more severe conditions we are subjected to in the Highlands several times each winter.

"The persistent theme of complainants was the lack of adequate snow clearing crews deployed by BEAR Scotland and a lack of gritting material administered. The general impression is that the disruption was disproportionate to the prevailing weather conditions.

"This is hugely worrying for the people of the Highlands, who over the years have greatly appreciated the winter maintenance service provided by the local authority. It is especially disappointing, given assurances given by Ms Boyack that there would be no diminution of trunk road maintenance with the award of the new contract.

"In the Highlands, we rely more than most people on our road network to go about our daily business and the public deserves a service upon which it can depend. The deficiencies shown in responding to the first snows of winter bring into sharp focus the need for urgent action to avoid repetition. We cannot wait until there is a tragedy before something is done. Public confidence must be restored – and quickly.

"We must go forward positively to find a way of effectively responding to adverse weather. After all, we can expect such incidents on at least six times each year. Due to the loss of the trunk road contract, we have had to reduce our winter maintenance capability by one-third and therefore our ability to assist is lessened. However, we are ready and willing to work with BEAR on the trunk road network in emergency situations and will be happy to meet BEAR to discuss this.

"However, the main issue is that the contractor does not appear to have in place adequate resources to deal with kinds of weather that we normally experience in the winter on trunk roads in the Highlands. I trust that the Executive will recognise this, insist of improved cover and dedicate the additional resources that will inevitably be required."

Following the difficulties faced by some motorists in parts of the Highland area  Chief Superintendent Ramsay McGhee, Head of Operations for Northern Constabulary has stated: "I can now confirm that a meeting took place (9/11/01) between Northern Constabulary and Bear Scotland to discuss several issues that arose from yesterdays snowfall, primarily on the A9. As a result of the meeting, operational plans have been revised and will be implemented forthwith."