Council to shuffle grit bins, but spending capped as winter beckons

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IT SEEMED an incongruous topic for debate, given that temperatures outside Scottish Borders Council’s chamber were hitting 25 degrees last week.

But inside, the thoughts of Tory councillor Gavin Logan were turning to the chilling possibility of a repeat of the chaos wreaked by the severity of last winter.

Specifically, Mr Logan (Tweeddale East) wanted to know what steps are being taken now in relation to the provision of grit bins: a question inspired by the experience of his own rural consistuents who were unable to drive to and from their homes because some road-end receptacles had previously been removed to save the council money.

And he drew an admission from his fellow Conservative Jim Fullarton, executive member for roads and infrastructure, that the current reduced provision of 830 bins across the region was “determined by financial constraints rather than an open and transparent assessment of need”.

Councillor Fullarton revealed the grit bin issue would be covered in a report currently being prepared on amendments to SBC’s winter service plan.

“Some changes will be proposed that will produce savings that contribute to the gap between the cost of an average winter and the current budget provision,” he explained.

“The report, which will be considered by the executive shortly, proposes a review of the existing location of grit bins ... with a prioritised distribution within existing budget levels.”

But Mr Fullarton admitted the current level of service in grit bin provision had “never been formally established” with their location based on historical data, with extra bins added on request on a number of occasions.

Some bins served roads and areas not maintained by the council, while others were on council roads already designated as primary salting routes. The annual cost of servicing all 830 bins was £100,000.

Mr Fullarton said officers, in consultation with community councils, had been gathering data on existing bin locations and collating requests for additional bins and had developed criteria to “ensure the appropriate location of all bins”.

As a result, the report will recommend no increase to the total number of grit bins, but the removal of all receptables on primary salting routes and on private roads.

Requests for additional bins from community councils and members of the public would be evaluated against the criteria.

But Mr Fullarton stressed: “This process will be managed within the existing budget allocation.”

Mr Logan wondered that if a community purchased its own bins, SBC would, in a quid pro quo arrangement, fill them with salt.

This was not ruled out by Mr Fullarton, who stressed the need for “a sensible approach” and advised all communities with an interest in grit bin provision to liase with council officers as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, SBC’s watchdog scrutiny panel of the council will today hold a hearing into “council and community resilience” for the coming winter. Prompted by last winter’s severe difficulties, it will seek to find out how the council relates to local communities and works in partntership for snow cleaning, grit bins, pavement clearing and the prioritising of roads and pavements for treatment and repairs.

The hearing will assess the impact of the past two harsh winters and attempt to find out what lessons have been learned. Among those invited to give evidence are senior officials from roads, education, social work, finance and emergency planning.