Darlington's current cold snap, now dragging into day 6, has excited plenty of negative comment from the blogosphere. My blogging LibDem council colleague Mike Barker posts from the "front line" - apparently walkways in the Pedestrian Heart haven't been gritted or cleared for 5 days.
Mike's also been chatting to someone who's been chatting to someone in the Market Hall. There a DBC employee may have said that the reason why no gritting had been done since Friday was because the mobile gritter had been broken down for weeks - management ignored requests from a fortnight back to get the machine fixed. Shocking stuff. If it were remotely true...
In general, I tend to find opposition councillors rely on third hand nonsense like this, because doing the sensible thing (ie ringing up the relevant officer and checking the facts) delivers rather less lurid headlines.
So I spoke to Ian Thompson, the Assistant Director this morning about Mike's allegations. He told me that the gritting machine had been out on Thursday evening, but had broken down and went into the garage to be fixed. It was out on Friday, but again there was a problem with the salt spreader, and it was looked at once more. It was then out working quite happily on Saturday, Sunday and thereafter.
Ian makes the point too that for the brief periods when the mechanized gritter wasn't working, Street Scene personnel were out spreading grit by hand.
He adds that there were 8 staff hand-gritting on Friday, 4 on Saturday, 5 on Sunday and 8 again on Monday. Clearly, in a longer cold snap than we are used to, snow and ice continue to fall, so repeated work was necessary.
More generally, on the main highway network, the roads have been gritted and/or ploughed 17 times between Thursday and Tuesday am. Now that it has been several days where the snow and ice haven't dispersed, it's likely that the gritters will move into the main housing estates.
If Mike's after a scandal, then he might like to go to Middlesbrough town centre - no gritting or clearing of any kind in its pedestrianised area in evidence as of Moday, with Christmas shoppers slipping and sliding on compacted ice and slush. I have pictures, which I'll put up this evening.
Just sometimes, it's worth checking the facts and celebrating what our Street Scene staff are doing (and in pretty miserable conditions too) before running Darlington down again.