SBC shuffle grit bins as winter beckons

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GRIT bins were the hot topic of conversation at Scottish Borders Council last week as the local authority gear up for what is being predicted by some as being an even harsher winter than last year.

Councillor Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East) wanted to know what steps are being taken now in relation to the provision of grit bins: a question inspired by the experience of his own rural consistuents who were unable to drive to and from their homes because some road-end receptacles had previously been removed to save the council money.

And he drew an admission from his fellow Conservative Jim Fullarton, executive member for roads and infrastructure, that the current reduced provision of 830 bins across the region was “determined by financial constraints rather than an open and transparent assessment of need”.

Councillor Fullarton revealed the grit bin issue would be covered in a report currently being prepared on amendments to SBC’s winter service plan.

“Some changes will be proposed that will produce savings that contribute to the gap between the cost of an average winter and the current budget provision,” he explained.

“The report, which will be considered by the executive shortly, proposes a review of the existing location of grit bins ... with a prioritised distribution within existing budget levels.”

But Mr Fullarton admitted the current level of service in grit bin provision had “never been formally established” with their location based on historical data, with extra bins added on request on a number of occasions.

Some bins served roads and areas not maintained by the council, while others were on council roads already designated as primary salting routes. The annual cost of servicing all 830 bins was £100,000.

Mr Fullarton said officers, in consultation with community councils, had been gathering data on existing bin locations and collating requests for additional bins and had developed criteria to “ensure the appropriate location of all bins”.

As a result, the report recommended no increase to the total number of grit bins, but the removal of all receptables on primary salting routes and on private roads.

Requests for additional bins from community councils and members of the public would be evaluated against the criteria.

But Mr Fullarton stressed: “This process will be managed within the existing budget allocation.”

Mr Logan asked whether in the event of a community purchasing its own bins, to maintain the level of supply they have been used to, whether the council would fill them. This was not ruled out by Mr Fullarton, who stressed the need for “a sensible approach” and advised all communities with an interest in grit bin provision to liase with council officers as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, SBC’s watchdog scrutiny panel of the council discussed plans for “council and community resilience” for the coming winter when they met last week.

Prompted by last winter’s severe weather, councillors wanted to find out how the council relates to local communities and works in partntership for snow clearing, grit bins, pavement clearing and the prioritising of roads and pavements for treatment and repairs.

Along with senior officials from roads, education, social work, finance and emergency planning, councillors assessed the impact of the past two harsh winters and looked at lessons learned. It was generally accepted that the last two winters had challenged the council’s ability to provides services and also highlighted local community resilience during periods of severe winter weather.