A former gritter driver has accused Kirklees Council bosses of letting the public down in the battle against snow and ice.

Farmer David Braithwaite, 53, of Wooldale, had worked on the council’s gritting crews for 30 years until he quit last winter.

Mr Braithwaite, who trades as D M Braithwaite, had been a council contractor for 18 years, but could see how council cuts had put the skids under the gritting operation.

After last year’s mild winter the council cut £300,000 from the winter maintenance budget.

Mr Braithwaite said last year the council had 32 vehicles in its gritting fleet – most of them independent contractors – but the number of gritters had been reduced and drivers’ routes increased in distance.

He said he believed as many as six vehicles had gone while less grit was being used on the roads.

He claimed the spread of grit had been slashed from 40g per sq metre to 25g per sq metre and insisted the quality and effectiveness of the mixture was much reduced.

“I could see the way it was going so I got out,” said Mr Braithwaite. “Drivers do the best they can but the council is always tinkering.

“The system is now over-complicated and over-legislated. Before the lads had been doing it for years and knew what they were doing, then it all changed.

“The lads who haven’t done it before have to cut their teeth, I’ve no problem with that, but if it’s not broken why fix it?

“We only had one night last winter where we had snow and I was out on my usual route in Upperthong and I was scared. The grit they use now just doesn’t work like it should.

“You don’t send anyone into battle with no bullets in their gun.”

Mr Braithwaite said drivers had just two hours to complete their routes and it was next to impossible.

“From the moment the flag goes up it’s rush, rush, rush because you’ve got to be finished within the two-hour period but it just can’t be done. I couldn’t do it on a lesser route.”

Mr Braithwaite said council staff were using council vehicles that weren’t fit for purpose.

“Some of them are nothing more than bread vans,” he said.

He added that drivers wanted to speak out but were too afraid and farmers in isolated communities – such as those above Holmfirth – had literally been knocking on his door.

 

“They all want to know what is going on,” he said. “I’ve had to tell them I’m out of it but these are businesses who can’t get feed to their animals or goods in or out.

“Even if they live down a track they still pay their council tax and business rates like everyone else.”

Farmer Brian Colwill, 68, of Coddy’s Farm, said he had missed out on a day’s trading at Holmfirth Market on Saturday and was appalled at the state of the roads.

“It was sheet ice,” he said. “I’ve tried to complain to my MP but he just says talk to your local councillors but no-one listens.

“We are paying big wages out to council managers but what do we get back for it? It seems they just want to shut the country down and if you can’t get to work who’s bothered? Not them.”

A council spokesman said: “The council reviewed its winter maintenance operations during 2014 in line with changes to the national code of practice for winter maintenance.

“This means that the council can maintain the same length of road network on the priority gritting route with fewer vehicles.

“New routes have been designed to grit the busier strategic routes, hospital routes and bus routes as early as possible in the gritting run.

“The council continues to treat winter maintenance as an important service and the length of our priority gritting route is well above the national average of 38% of the road network.

“The council’s aim is to grit priority routes within two hours of leaving the depots. However, when weather is extreme and obstructions are encountered including parked vehicles, it can take longer to complete the routes.

“We ask drivers to think carefully about where they leave their vehicles so that enough space is left for gritters and emergency vehicles to get through.

“The council’s dual purpose vehicles can be used throughout the year to support its highways operations with specially designed vehicle bodies attached each winter to convert them to gritters.

“This practice, along with a programme of maintenance and renewal of vehicles, means that the council operates a cost effective and efficient fleet.

“The salt purchased by the council comes from either Salt Union in Cheshire or Cleveland Salt in the North East. Both comply with the contract specification but are different in appearance.

“We have been supplied by these companies for many years, and they also supply most of the UK.”