Community snow wardens will help keep the streets of Kirklees clear this winter – and Kirklees Council is looking for volunteers.
Local people will be invited to sign up to clear pavements and footpaths to help keep the district moving during heavy snowfall.
The council will provide snow wardens with branded hi-vis vests, shoe grips, a shovel, grit and a shaker.
A trial is to take place over the next two winters – starting in October 2022 – and two locations will be chosen in each council ward, identified by local councillors. The scheme will involve individuals or community groups and other organisations.
The scheme was revealed as part of the council’s Winter Maintenance Policy Review which was presented to the Economy & Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Panel at Huddersfield Town Hall.
Kirklees grits 1,960 km of carriageway – 53% of the local road network – and it takes two hours to complete.
Graham West, the council’s service director for highways and streetscene, told the panel that winters in Kirklees were generally getting warmer with more intense periods of rainfall and there was a decline in the number of snow events.
In 2013-14 the council only carried out 34 grits but, four years later, in 2017-18 the so-called Beast from the East icy blast meant 108 grits. The average number of grits per winter over the last 20 years is around 70.
The council currently has snow volunteers in rural areas but now wants to expand that across the district with the snow wardens.
Mr West said: “It’s a great opportunity to extend our volunteer scheme.” He described the snow wardens scheme as an “excellent service for our communities” and added: “I am absolutely sold on that.”
Mr West urged the community to get involved and said: “It’s about embracing this. There may be a fear factor about ‘can I do that because it’s not mine’ but let’s help people get past that and give added value.”
Mr West said the council had increased its winter maintenance budget from £1.2 million to £1.8 million but in 2021-22, the first year of that increased budget, the authority had spent £2.1 million, an overspend of £300,000.
He was asked if costs would rise this year and said he expected fuel costs to have gone up “significantly” but couldn’t give precise figures.
He was “not aware” of any issues with grit but added: “Is it likely to go up? Possibly. But we do have a strategic stockpile.”
Asked about the weather this winter, Mr West said: “I don’t have a crystal ball as to whether it’s going to be good, bad or indifferent.”
Kirklees has 1,450 grit bins around the district and Mr West, who only recently joined the council, said he would be watching how much grit was used in grit bins. Where he previously worked people would steal grit and sell it.
Clr John Taylor (Con, Kirkburton) questioned the policy when it talked about adding new gritting routes. He said if new routes are to be added, ward councillors are told they must “sacrifice” another road.
“Councillors will never get residents to accept that their road that has been gritted for 20 years won’t be gritted in the future,” he said.
Clr Taylor was also concerned about a health centre and a respite centre in his ward that weren’t gritted and asked why they hadn’t been included in the review.
Clr Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) questioned why new housing developments aren’t added to gritting routes.
He pointed out that 5,000 new homes were going to be built in Thornhill Lees as part of the new Dewsbury Riverside scheme but there would be no gritting. Instead, he claimed, there would be a “grit dump” with residents given a “hi-vis jacket and a bag of grit.”
Clr Aafaq Butt (Lab, Heckmondwike) warned that local residents may see the snow warden scheme as showing that the council “can’t be bothered” clearing snow and questioning what they paid their council tax for.