AA says prospect of reduced gritting of our Cambridgeshire roads is ‘not good news’

Steve Flack, 54, digs into the huge pile of grit inside the Witchford dome

Steve Flack, 54, digs into the huge pile of grit inside the Witchford dome - Credit: Archant

Despite the likelihood of a 1.9pc rise in council tax, Cambridgeshire still faces the prospect of reduced gritting in a move the AA described as ‘not good news’.

Cambridgeshire faces reduced gritting of its roads next winter in a move the AA described as “not good news”.

County council leader Martin Curtis believes the move would not endanger lives but he agreed it was “not a perfect situation”

Mr Curtis said until now others had recognised Cambridgeshire had a “gold plated” gritting service and motorists driving into the county often noticed how significantly improved it was compared to elsewhere.

But faced with a five year £150m bid to save money, Mr Curtis said the £2m a year cost of gritting was to be reviewed.

For this winter, at least, the county will rely on its fleet of 38 gritting trucks and team of 80 drivers to keep the roads clear. The council has also stockpiled 10,000 tonnes of salt with a further 6,000 tonnes in reserve.

The county council is not responsible for the upkeep of the North Bank out of Whittlesey (it is gritted and maintained by Peterborough City Council) where three vehicles entered the river in the space of 36 hours last week. However winter gritting is expected to be on the agenda when county and local councillors as well as road safety campaigners meet city council representatives on December 12.

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Mr Curtis said the gritting service in Cambridgeshire “is something we should be proud of but the reality is we can’t afford to keep doing those things. So we’re going to have to review it.

“Of course, if we can do it and be more efficient, we will look at it and we’ll be imaginative about how we do it. But the reality is people will probably see the impact.”

Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA, described the proposals as “not good news” when questioned by the BBC.

He said it could turn out to be a “false economy. We argue that a good winter maintenance plan is important not just for safety, but also for the economy.

“Cambridgeshire is a very vibrant county. Reducing spending that keeps its roads clear could be counter-productive.”

Mr Curtis said the county is set to lose nearly 21 per cent of its Government funding over the next two financial years – nearly £30m.

“This is a very tough time for councils and especially Cambridgeshire,” he said. “We are one of the hardest-hit ¬authorities in the country in terms of funding and yet we are trying to deliver the most growth.”

He said a lot of work had been done to protect services “however, the scale of savings we now need to make means we have to make tough decisions and inevitably some regrettable cuts to frontline services.”

Other cuts could include saving up to £300,000 on road safety measures, £440,000 on recycling, £375,000 on libraries and an end to concessionary fares on the park and ride into Cambridge.

Other cuts being discussed included a proposal to end school clothing allowances for poorer families and taking money away from the home to school transport budget.

Children’s services could also be hit and there is also a danger that the county council will close its Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon.

Maurice Leeke, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, criticised the council for funding “grandiose schemes”.

“We should pay more attention to getting the basics right,” he said. “We’ve got to look at whether we can reduce the impact on the front line and whether there are some luxuries elsewhere that we really should be looking at.”

Mr Curtis said: “We need to be realistic and say that we can’t afford to have gold-plated services anymore.

“We’ll always keep looking at how we can make savings so they don’t impact the front line, but the opportunities for that just get less and less. The reality is, people will probably see the impact.”

County Councillor Sir Peter Brown- and former agent to Huntingdon MP and Prime Minister Sir John Major- is among those fighting to keep the Cromwell museum open.

“Obviously, the county council had to look at everything in the round when it has to make reductions like this,” he said.

“That does not mean it’s going to happen. I shall be quite vociferous in defending the museum.”

Mayor of Huntingdon Bill Hensley, a member of the museum’s board of trustees, said: “I think closing it would be a disaster.

“It’s the draw to Huntingdon for our tourists. Numbers would drop and that would reflect on takings in restaurants and shops. There are some absolute treasures inside, some permanently on loan.

“The town council could not afford to run it. We’ve just had £83,000 slashed from our budget by the district council. I’m very ¬disappointed it’s even being considered.”