Martin Salter - working hard for Reading West

Local Councils Must Learn Lessons from Monday’s Gridlock but Radio Berkshire Hailed as “Snow Angels” by MP

Reading West MP Martin Salter, who himself was caught up in Monday’s snowbound traffic chaos in Reading for over eight hours, has called on local councils and the police to reviseĀ  their emergency planning and contingency arrangements following the gridlock which paralysed towns across the Thames Valley.

Mr Salter said:-

“Whilst I have nothing but admiration for the emergency services and public sector workers who had to cope with the most appalling weather conditions on Monday there are clearly lessons to be learned from the snow gridlock which paralysed Reading and other towns across our region.

Firstly I want to know why the severe weather warning was not issued by the Met Office until nearly two hours after the heavy snow began to fall on Monday afternoon. Secondly, the last thing we needed was for firms and businesses to be encouraging their staff to leave early before the gritter lorries could get out and clear the main routes. Thirdly it is now clear that councils like Reading need some smaller, more mobile vehicles that could get through the traffic with a couple of guys with some grit and shovels to deal with the chaos that was caused by some of the smaller slopes and inclines which were causing massive tailbacks and adding to the congestion. Fourthly, where were the police and council officials at key junctions such as the roundabouts either side of Caversham and Reading bridges where traffic needed an element of control and direction in order to keep things moving?

As it happened I witnessed along the Meadway and the Tilehurst Road civic minded citizens helping vehicles up the slopes near the Honey End Lane junction but there was not a police officer or council official to be seen. Without the selfless actions of my constituents I suspect that the Tilehurst Road, which was one of the only routes open into Tilehurst, would have remained gridlocked into the early hours of Tuesday morning.

What needs to happen is for local councils like Reading to look carefully at those black spots and pinch points which cause trouble and congestion during heavy snow or icy conditions. We may need grit bins in such locations and certainly these areas should receive priority treatment.

I am not seeking to scapegoat public sector workers without whom things would have been many times worse on Monday night. I am full of praise for the ‘Snow Angels’ of BBC Radio Berkshire whose coverage was simply invaluable and I think that the police, council staff and the emergency services worked tirelessly to look after vulnerable people and to prevent a crisis from becoming a disaster. However there is no doubt that better planning and better contingency arrangements can be put in place and that we need improved communications with both residents and businesses. Ironically if people had stayed at work rather than leaving the moment the snow started to fall the gritting lorries could have done their work and we would have all probably arrived home several hours earlier”.

Martin Salter added:-

“I hope people who like to harp on about cutting back the public sector and privatising the BBC will take a moment to reflect on who we turn to at a time of crisis. Without public sector broadcasting and without the sterling efforts of public sector workers people would have been without information and without a helping hand. There are times when market forces are simply not the answer”.