Fears expressed over children’s safety as council chiefs look to save money in the winter

Council gritter clears the paths in Peebles. Scottish Borders Council chiefs want to cut early-morning clearances, a move some councillors are against.
Council gritter clears the paths in Peebles. Scottish Borders Council chiefs want to cut early-morning clearances, a move some councillors are against.

Councillors have balked at proposed changes to the winter maintenance of footpaths in the Borders, over fears that schoolchildren would be left walking on icy pavements.

Officers from Scottish Borders Council’s assets and infrastructure department have suggested gritting pavements within normal working hours, rather than the current 6am start time, to cut down on overtime payments to staff. 

However, this would mean that not all footways would be treated before 8.30am, when most people are travelling to work and children are making their way to school.

The proposals would also mean that pavements would not be gritted on bank holidays.

At a meeting of the council’s executive committee on Tuesday, August 20, councillors heard from infrastructure manager Brian Young, who told the committee: “Footways are not subject to preventative treatment like the roads, only post treatment. 

“The 20 primary footway routes are mainly focused within the town centres, shopping areas and approaches to public buildings, schools, hospitals and medical centres. 

“At present Scottish Borders Council footway treatment typically starts at 6am to allow all the priority footways to be completed by 8.30am. 

“The peer review revealed that a number of rural authorities provide a service Monday to Friday only and aim to treat before 9am or between 8am and 3.30pm as resources allow.

“This would mean that treatment would take place within normal working hours and because of the resource-intensive nature of footway treatment offers significant savings that potentially could equate to £82,000 in an average year. 

“This figure assumes that salting would not take place at weekends. If the salting was to continue at weekends the estimated saving would drop to £58,000.”

However, councillors expressed concern over the plans, and have asked officers to come back to the executive with a more detailed paper. 

Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine said: “I’m dead against this. I’ve already has comments from residents about the state of pavements leading into the winter. 

“We can’t tell people to think of the environment and then make people have to take the car to work because the pavements aren’t suitable.

“I don’t think possibly making a saving is worth it.”

Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley commented: “We have schools which operate as community centres, such as the new one at Jedburgh, which will be open on weekends as a hub for community activities.”

Council leader Shona Haslam, who represents Tweeddale East, added: “I know how full my inbox was about just one path that wasn’t gritted until 8am.

“I understand it’s an operational issue but people have told us they are slipping and things like that.

“We need another report giving us more options about what we can do.”

Chief executive Tracey Logan promised councillors that officers would return with a more detailed paper, including different options for winter pavement maintenance, to be deliberated upon at the next executive meeting. 

However, in the meantime, she warned: “We are looking at making significant savings and just keeping things the way they are is not something we can do.”