Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Round-Up: What Went Wrong With The Winter Weather

#rdgnews - Accusations are being thrown back and forth as a big debate has emerged over why hundreds of thousands of people were forced to suffer unnecessarily due to the extreme conditions of the past few days.

In a selection of earlier posts (Commuters Grit Teeth As Weather Woes Grip Region; Anger Grows At Failure To Prevent Traffic Chaos; Whiteout Fallout Continues; Views and Perspectives) I've attempted to document a wide range of bloggers reactions.

Sky News' Jo Couzens provides the best report of the shocking scenes which have now caused questions to be raised at ministerial level as the events threaten to escalate and have national consequences, as the issues take on a multi-faceted character.

Reading Guide has the best album of photos.

The practical debate

Questions have been raised regarding the failure to prepare adequately for weather which was forecast a week in advance and an apparently insufficient robust or flexible contingency plan.

Of particular concern is an over-dependence on assistance provided by civic-minded members of the public as emergency services were inundated and overwhelmed or otherwise unable to cope under the conditions - health and council services were restricted due to staff availability, while the AA described Monday night as its' busiest for 25 years!

A dispute over the particular means of dealing with the conditions has also raised it's head with different groups making claim and counter-claim about the prioritisation of road clearance and the choice of snowplough or grit or other means.

Of particular concern is the worry that supplies of grit may be being rationed, especially after this was raised as an issue in February.

Equally, civil authorites' control of communication channels was brought into focus as voluntary and commercial methods including local radio stations, blogs and social media sites became the routes by which information was spread fastest.

However it seems a unique combination of events conspired to exacerbate initial problems until a snowball-effect grew beyond all control.

Apparently gritting had occurred in accordance with policy, but was washed into drains during the day, leaving little time for regritting to take place before the snows hit.

As the temprature dropped rapidly a weather front brought heavy precipitation which hit at the worst possible time at dusk, on the shortest day of the year - just ahead of evening rush hour - and the snows hit so heavily that the first falls froze creating treacherous conditions. The initial traffic problems were caused before resources could be sent out to deal with them and were subsequently hampered by road blockages and effective gridlock.

In a fast-moving situation it appears there was some confusion over control choices, causing delays in issuing public advise to avoid travelling during the blizzard and swamping the road network.

So if it wasn't a lack of preparation it was a lack of proper coordination and decisive leadership caused by structural weaknesses in the institutional framework of the multi-agency plan.

With a panoply of authorities with different areas of responsibility (eg unitary authority councils, county fire service, multi-county ambulance service, regional police authority) communication was key to preventing a wholesale breakdown in order, and time was of the essence.

The political debate

As I followed the developing story it seems LibDems were first to pick up that something was going wrong.

Avid communicator Cllr Daisy Benson was active on twitter as members of her party attended the formal memorial service to the late local party leader Bob Green and were caught in the first snows. Cllr Warren Swaine was wryly amused by the surprise that sensible precautions aren't always taken.

Meanwhile local opinioneer the Common Sense Party's Howard Thomas kept up his criticism of council waste as he worried February's supply shortage had been repeated as budget shortcuts were made under political pressure.

Conservatives followed up in vocal outrage that problems had been allowed to occur. Reading East MP Rob Wilson was critical, but Wokingham's John Redwood called the reponse to the extreme conditions 'pathetic' and Cllr Willis said the council had been 'caught on the hop'.

Obviously questions had to be asked, and this blog came under attack for thinking aloud why right-wingers were making such a noise without publicising exactly what questions they wanted answers to.

This was in marked contrast to Labour's Martin Salter who used his intimate connections with every local body to produce a weighty tome in an attempt to dominate attention and sweep up every possible ounce of publicity (even aggressively bumping other interviewees on BBC Radio Berkshire) while playing to his political base by applauding council workers.

In Wokingham a similar case of politicking was evident as Labour PPC George Donaldson applauded the council workers at the tory-run council, while LibDem PPC Cllr Prue Bray offered a more rounded view reflecting her dual role by comparing structural imbalances that lead to systematic biases.

Greens, meanwhile, gleefully attacked all and sundry for playing partisan games with the issues by taking different political perspectives - before offering their own!

Among the non-partisan bloggertariat there was a high level of anger, confusion and frustration at the disruption to daily life, but equally a sense of joy could be detected as the snows made a clear break from ordinary routine which allowed people to reassess their personal situations.

However as a final word the ultimate underlying sentiment was one of gratitude that things weren't nearly as bad as they might have otherwise been!

Oranjepan says:
Whither the weather indeed!


Update: It appears the snow has cause a crack in the Conservative ranks to open up - Leader of RBWM council Cllr David Burbage has attacked Wokingham MP John Redwood for encouraging inaccurate criticism of councils.


  1. You dont like it when Greens are right do you. You dont even give the link! See

  2. Adrian,
    the link is in the previous post


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