The report, carried out by a management and transport consultant, critiqued the council’s handling of the snow in December, and made recommendations for the future.
The report, written by Brian Smith, was published on Friday, and examined both the planning and the recovery period.
The report described the snow, which blanketed parts of Cardiff with up to 20 centimeters, as “very dry… quite powdery, with a low moisture content, meaning the salt pre-treatment did not have the usual effect in readily turning the snow into slush.” It also maintained that heavy traffic coupled with these conditions made it difficult to use snow ploughs effectively.
Smith argued the rarity of snowfall in Cardiff "make[s] it difficult to justify large-scale investment in clearing equipment, which may not be used very often", and suggested instead that the Council focus on better contingency plans to deal with the snow.
According to the report, the length of road on the designated pre-treated network is certainly fairly typical at 43%.
The Council has 10 gritters for the County Council roads, two reserve gritters to provide cover for mechanical breakdown, and other specific gritters dedicated to the trunk road agency. All the gritters can have ploughs attached to them. The Council also has an old snowblower, but “one of its main bolts sheared while being used, so it had less value than hoped.”
The planned network was treated twice on the Thursday night/Friday morning and staff were alerted to the coming period of poor weather. “All the efforts on the Friday were directed at keeping the main roads moving,” it said.
The report made 12 recommendations. Primarily it called for better planning and preparation, and for greater community involvement.
“There appears to have been little or no consultation with key stakeholders about the pre-treatment network or indeed the opportunity for them to feed in to the decisions about priorities, nor any understanding of the approach if there was snow,” it said.
“The County Council is at the heart of this planning, and has an important co-ordinating role, but an effective response requires contributions from other organisations and communities.”
It recommended engagement with business groups, train and bus operators, and local retailers. This would enable businesses to develop resilience plans, train operators to ensure passengers can safely reach and leave stations, and local retailers to support footway clearance if provided with salt.
A spokesperson for Arriva Trains Wales said: “The railway looks after itself so changes would have little or no effect on the railway. Having said that, we work in partnership with the council in getting people in and out of Cardiff in those times. We are all in favour of coordination and working in partnership. Any lessons learned by any agency as a result of this report has to be a good thing.”
The report also suggested developing arrangements with community groups and representatives to provide additional support, such as farmers helping snow clearance with their equipment. “None of these is without issues,” it acknowledged. “For example, the question of insurance is often raised, but if done in advance, and there is a will to address, then such ideas can be part of the solution.”
Ms Ally Perks, manager of the fairtrade gift shop, Shared Earth, said: “The snow did affect us quite badly. We were 30% down over Christmas.”
Ms Perks, 42, who has managed the shop for seven years, added: “I do welcome the report but I would take it with a pinch of salt. What they say and what they do are quite different. Actions speak louder than words. I would be surprised if they did make moves to work closer with retailers, because they haven’t before.”
The report also said that while “no issues or concerns were raised by the communications team” Councillors raised a number of concerns about the information they were receiving. Councillors felt it was too general, when they needed ward-specific information.
The report suggested greater use of social media, and a wider involvement of the council’s monthly newspaper, Capital Times, in informing the public. “I was surprised that it had not been used at the beginning of the winter season to disseminate some standard messages,” it said. “The sorts of things it could cover are: what you should do in cold weather [and] tips on driving in icy or snowy conditions.”
Adrian Robson, councillor for Rhiwbina, said: “I welcome the findings of the inquiry into the Council’s handling of the snow crisis. I agree with the suggestions made – especially recommendations relating to highlighting where to get up-to-date information on the Council’s website and encouraging more use of social networking sites and real-time media.”
The report also called for the criteria underpinning network coverage to be more explicit. It emphasized the need to detail coverage of priority areas, smaller roads and footbridges. “There should be greater clarity about the priority of footways, and what treatment can be expected if there is snow,” it said.
The lack of clarity meant many councillors were not sure about which parts of their wards were prioritized for pre-treatment. “Some were aware a detailed map could be searched on the website (also available to the public and others), and indeed, there is an alphabetic listing of roads in the operational document that supports the policy, but [councilors] would find presentation by ward much easier to handle.”
It also criticised the re-filling of the 370 council salt bins, highlighting a bottleneck in the process. “Insufficient attention had been given to their re-filling,” it said. “As a result of the December event, the way the task is undertaken has been changed, so allowing more bins to be filled.”
The report also noted how in the days following the snow not all equipment was being utilized, due to confusion and a lack of strategy.
It also noted the lack of GPS on the gritting vehicles which, if more widely in use, would have provided a record of where each gritting vehicle had been. It recommended replacing the fleet of gritting vehicles with new ones with in-built GPS. "It would not be a major expense for the Council to equip the current fleet immediately,” it said.
Ally Perks, manager of the fairtrade gift shop, Shared Earth, supported this suggestion. “Roads were not cleared properly,” she said. “I never saw one gritter. St Mary street was treacherous.”
The report did, however, also praise the council. “I am satisfied that there are sufficient resources in place, including gritters, and they are effectively deployed with duty officers and rotas, to meet the normal pre-treatment network,” it said.
The report also seemed confident the issue of salt supply would be addressed by the building of a new salt barn. The covered salt barn, to be built this year, will be able to store 3,500 tonnes of salt.
Councilor McEvoy told the Cardiffian he was confident the new salt barn would prevent a bottleneck in grit supplies in the future. “The barn is so much better able to cope with these situations,” he said.
The report also said the council has “sufficient staff for normal rota operation and sufficient gritters, including two reserve gritters, to cover the planned network within a four hour period. It is good practice that the duty officer stays on duty in case of changes to the weather.”
In terms of financing these plans, the report said: “Most of the suggestions/recommendations in this report can be achieved without significant investment. Apart from these, most of the issues will require a mix of management and staff time as plans are developed and tested, and different ways of operating are considered.”
It suggested “a reasonable target for the Council to set itself is to have the main elements in place by the end of the summer and all the detailed points in place by the beginning of the next winter season.”
Neil McEvoy, Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “It is a very detailed report, and I am a bit disappointed by the way the report has been trivialized in the media. There are things we started to do immediately, and there are things we need to bring in in the future. It’s all about more coordinated action. We are the only authority in Wales to have an independent report. We have shown a very proactive approach.”
Delme Bowen, Executive Member for Traffic and Transportation, said: “The report is very constructive and very helpful for us to take things forward. It may also be useful to other authorities in Wales as I know that the Welsh Assembly Government have started a review about how all the authorities responded to the snow crisis.
“The extent of the snow was unique for Cardiff, in at least 30 years. We were salting and it was not having any effect. The salt does not have any effect below eight degrees at all. Many people thought the council had not salted, but we were. We did not actually run out of salt. We got low and luckily the WAG had a confinement that came from abroad by ship but it did not arrive until January.
“I specifically welcome the recommendation for the improvement with communities and third parties who we can liase with more closely. We will be asking other authorities to extend mutual benefit so if the snow does not hit them as badly they can lend us their equipment.
“We are looking forward to have learned from the situation. Some of the recommendations apply to emergency planning not related to snow, such as floods.
“I would not say there was a breakdown in communication. In fact, we have two managers on the snow plan 24:7.”
Adrian Robson, councillor for Rhiwbina, said: “I welcome the findings of the inquiry into the Council’s handling of the snow crisis. I agree with the suggestions made. The Council needs, via the Capital Times, to issue a “Snow Charter” for residents so that they know exactly what the Council will do during and following heavy snowfall. It also needs to engage with businesses, residents and other stakeholders to find out what routes and pavements they think the Council should prioritise. It must also work to encourage these groups to assist the City by helping to clear the snow where people are physically able to and it is safe to do so.”
A spokesperson for Arriva Trains Wales said: “There were disruptions, but it was unprecedented winter conditions, the worst for 25 years."
AT A GLANCE – THE RECOMMENDATIONS:
1) The Council should undertake a review of gritting policy and the clearance of carriageways and footways following snow, with particular regard to the criteria underpinning the policy and the way the policy is presented.
2) The Council should engage with key stakeholders, such as business and retail interests and the bus companies, as it reviews its policy, and ensure, once the review is completed, these interests are aware of the Council’s plans and the way they will be discharged.
3) The Council should consider not only its own resilience planning for extreme weather events, but work with others, including the community and voluntary sectors, to ensure the most effective future response.
4) Further training should be provided to build on the initial learning to ensure the most effective future response.
5) Arrangements should be developed to access top-up resources of equipment and operatives in the event of a future extreme snow event, to enable the area to recover as quickly as possible.
6) Building on the arrangements already in place, more formalised plans should be developed to utilise other Council staff in a future snow event
7) Urgent consideration should be given to fitting the gritting fleet with GPS, so the Council has a record of what has been gritted and is better able to deal with any insurance issues in respect of its salt treatments.
8) As part of its contingency planning, consideration should be given to the ways community resources could be harnessed in the event of major snow, or indeed other extreme events, and plans made to allow rapid activation.
9) Consideration should be given to using the “Capital Times” to give out core messages about dealing with winter weather, the Council’s plans and where to get up-to-date information.
10) Consideration should be given to the information provided to councillors during periods of severe weather, and indeed other similar events, recognising their desire for information at a ward level, but also recognising this can be resource intensive to provide.
11) Information on the website during extreme weather should be supplemented through social networking and other more real-time channels.
12) To capture all the points identified in this report, a detailed Action Plan should be developed under the direction of the responsible Corporate Director
The council have since drawn up an Action Plan, which states:
In Future Snow events operatives from Cleaner Cardiff & Parks will come under the direct control of the Operational Manager for Highway Maintenance to be deployed where needed. Where Waste Collections are disrupted, Waste Management Operatives will also come under Highways Control
Additional Snow Plough Side Mates & Gritter Drivers will be trained up to be available as top up resource.
Members will be provided with ward maps showing pre-salting routes and Grit Bin locations
A “Snow Kit” will be developed for each school, including 2 x Grit Bins, and associated salting equipment for discussion with schools
The Council will undertake, with key stakeholders, a full review of its winter maintenance policy.