GRIT! It’s the topic of the moment.

Chris Hutt’s been at it as has KRS. So The Bristol Blogger thought he’d join the party and do some gritty blogging too.

Mainly as today’s Cancer featured a letter on the subject of grit from a resident of Barton Hill that provoked a response from Bristol City Council that manages to reach a whole new level of idiocy and arseholism even by their standards.

Here’s the letter:

JUST a passing thought about the Bristol City Council housing department.

Where does the duty of care lie, after all I do still have a document (produced by Housing services) where one of the key roles of the caretakers is : Under the heading “Task” it states “Adverse weather – snow/ice – paths into and out of each location should be gritted to prevent injury to tenants.”

Or could it be that the afore mentioned “reorganisation and restructuring” has decided that the duty of care is beyond their collective control. I just wonder how much time and effort will be spent by the council legal team sorting out the legal implications any impending legal action? But, maybe that comes from another fund – like the CEO’s coffee fund maybe?

So, in the likelihood that there is someone out there who is still morally obligated to the duty of care, when will the ice be moved from the footpaths around the blocks of flats, in particular Eccleston House, Phoenix House, Barton House and Corbett House? All of these have inclines to which all residents must walk/slide and fall to exit the residencies. If for no other reason to clog up the A&E at the Royal Infirmary, having fallen.

Yours awaiting meals on wheels (has no one told you that they have suspended the service “Too dangerous for staff to venture out”).

Philip Morris, Barton Hill.

And now standby for the response from the council, which must be an extremely early favourite for ‘Bristol City Council PR disaster of the year 2010’.

Reply from Steve Durnell, Caretaking Services Manager: Thank you for your email raising concerns about gritting of walkways and footpaths to council properties receiving a caretaking service.

The document on the website that you quote is dated 2004 and is currently out of date. I have arranged for it to be updated to reflect the current position. I would apologise for this oversight on our part.

Our legal services section have previously advised us not to grit as this could leave the city council open to legal action.

Rather than do nothing we do attempt to ensure that grit is available for residents to use at their own discretion. You may be aware that a decision was made by the leader of the council to make an exception in respect of our Supported Housing for Older People. As a “one-off” measure access to these 28 schemes will be gritted.

However the current weather conditions and consequent issues around gritting has prompted a reconsideration of the position. Further legal advice is being sought and this may lead to changes in our policy where icy conditions prevail. If this is the case we will make sure any changes are publicised. I hope the above addresses some of your concerns.

I’d really like to know who told Durnell it was a good idea to come out with that in the local newspaper. Here’s some observations.

1. Surely about 99% of the population – on hearing that an elderly Bristolian receiving meals on wheels needed his path clearing of snow and ice – would just go and bloody do it? Moreover, surely someone in Mr Durnell’s privileged position, even if he was too busy sat behind his desk (doing what I don’t know as the policy he should be sat behind his desk writing doesn’t appear to exist), could rustle up a few of his staff to go and clear this sodding path?

2. Even if Mr Durnell is so sadly embittered about life and the people he’s paid to serve that he lacks common courtesy and decency, mightn’t he have at least taken on board his boss Jan Ormondroyd’s instructions to be more customer focussed? Any corporate enterprise, purely from business self-preservation, surely would have gone and done what their customer asked for under the existing contract they had? Firstly, it’s called good customer service and secondly it’s called good PR because it keeps a potentially embarrassing story out of the press that could have a hugely negative impact on your business and reputation.

3. Why is Mr Durnell’s document out of date? And surely it’s current until it’s formally replaced? You can’t just pull it off the website and announce a new policy on the basis of a rumour, er sorry, top quality ‘legal advice’ that doesn’t appear to have been written down anywhere?

4. “Our legal services section have previously advised us not to grit as this could leave the city council open to legal action.”! This is bollocks. There’s actually a very small chance in certain freak circumstances that the council could be open to legal action for gritting elderly residents’ paths. This is just pseudo-legalistic ‘elf ‘n’ safety mumbo-jumbo excuses being used by the city council to cut costs and staff isn’t it?

5. Am I the only one embarrassed to live in a city where the local authority has basically told a vulnerable resident to sod off and clear their own path of snow and ice because there’s a small off-chance it might cost them some money?

6. When Mr Durnell shows up on Monday morning can someone give him the bollocking of a lifetime then stick a shovel in his hand and pack him off to Barton Hill pronto please?

Follow Bristol’s snow business on Twitter #gritforbristol

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24 Responses to #gritforbristol

  1. woodsy says:

    If no shovels are available at the Counts Louse, I have one Mr Durnell can borrow if he’d care to call in at my place in Easton on his way. 🙂

  2. chris hutt says:

    Woodsy, mind where you stick it!

  3. Seebag says:

    Jan doesn’t have to worry about operating as a business would have to in order to survive – she has a monopoly on these kind of services. She doesn’t have to worry about accountability for providing such services as accountability doesn’t seem to figure in her vocabulary. She’s also appears to be very comfortable hiding behind health and safety and legalistic bollocks. Champers all round, snuggle down in the refurbished office, and never mind about the little people and whether they might fall over now and again.

  4. Bristol Dave says:

    I expect Jandroid will soon be putting her Chairman Mao-style policies into effect with more “marketing of the city’s grit departments” in order to “get the message across”.

    As far as Jan is concerned, telling people how great something is, be that gritting, the city, the Strategic Leadership Team, etc is as good as actually fixing any problems with that thing. After all, as far as she’s concerned, if you repeat a lie often enough, eventually people will believe it. It’s propaganda the likes of which is only shared with Chinese State Television. Next we’ll be having press releases from BCC on Tractor Production statistics.

    I get the feeling that Bristol’s grit supplies are running dangerously low. Soon, they’ll just have to stop gritting the roads. We’ll know the exact point that we’re really fucked as Jan will command that a press release is put on the website telling us that actually we’re all wrong and that every road is being gritted (as they did in December when it was obvious that not a single road was gritted!) and that all is great.

  5. chris hutt says:

    “Our legal services section have previously advised us not to grit as this could leave the city council open to legal action.”

    A few points about this. The city council is already responsible for mantaining the paths in question in a safe condition because they are the property owners. So the instruction given to deliberately neglect to carry out its legal obligation looks to me (not a lawyer) like evidence that could be used in support of a claim against the city council.

    If the council were sued for damages arising from its failure to clear snow or ice, a defence would be that it did all that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances. But in the case above it seems clear that they are deliberately avoiding doing what they could reasonably do, given the caretaking services available.

    Presumably the legal services section have been giving the same dodgy advice to other sections of the council and this might explain why nothing much appears to have been done about clearing footways for the first couple of days of snow.

    It would be interesting to hear from a lawyer but it looks to me as if the advice is completely wrong since the deliberate neglect makes the council more vulnerable to a compensation claim.

  6. thebristolblogger says:

    A document also exists committing the council to clearing the paths. Withdrawing it now because it’s inconvenient and possibly involves expense makes little difference. Should someone injure themselves on these paths that document would be relevant.

    I’d like to see what form this legal advice is actually in. I suspect when we start digging Mr McNamara will use the Castle Park/Steve Norman defence -“I know nothing about this”.

  7. Martyn says:

    Very admirable of Chris and Jon to get so hands-on, BUT we pay taxes for the council to maintain our highways, which include roads and footpaths! Gritting should be carried out by those payed and trained to do such work. I have seen piles of grit used wasted by residents spading heaps onto their streets and not actually spreading it properly.

    Why even have a council if they aren’t there to take the appropriate actionwhen required – or should that be are willing to think about taking any action until they have checked out the legal situation with their painfully slow legal department?

    I think every citizen is due some form of rebate.

  8. Seebag says:

    And these clowns are “managing” a budget of more than one million pounds a day to run this city. Jandroid & Co are a sick joke.

  9. thebristolblogger says:

    From yesterday’s Consumer Guardian:

    10 cold, hard questions about the big freeze

    by Miles Brignall

    2. I fell over and broke my arm on an untreated pavement. What action can I take?

    It’s a similar story to the roads. The local council has an obligation to take all reasonably practical steps to make sure the paths are safe to use. It will depend on what a court decides is reasonable.

    John McQuater, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, says: “Generally, local authorities have systems in place to deal with pavements, and would be able to show they had acted reasonably. In the event snow had been left for five days and someone slipped over, you might well have a case. Most people would argue it was reasonable for a council to clear pavements five days after the snow had fallen, and if they hadn’t, you would have a valid claim.”

    4. I’ve cleared the snow from our driveway. Am I opening myself up to a claim if someone slips?

    This is an urban myth. If you do the reasonable thing and clear your drive, you are not opening yourself up to a possible claim, except in very exceptional circumstances.

    “This is a common misconception,” McQuater says. “By clearing the snow from your paths, you do not invite any extra liability that wouldn’t have existed had you done nothing and left the snow on the ground. The only circumstance in which you might invite a claim was if you acted completely unreasonably, and somehow created a new latent hazard that had not existed before your actions.”

    For example, if you poured huge quantities of water on to your drive which then froze to create a dangerous hazard, that in theory might open you up to a claim, he suggests.

  10. harryT says:


    Current state of the law:

    1. Highways – The Highways Act 1980 Sections 41 and 58 clearly state that the Highway Authorities have a statutory duty to maintain the highway. The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 (section 111) has inserted an additional section (41(1)) to the Highways Act 1980 which places a duty on Highway Authorities in respect of winter conditions, as follows:-

    ‘In particular, a Highway Authority is under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice’.

    “Reasonably practicable” is an age old English legal term with clear legal meaning. It requires the Council to prove that it has used every effort up to the point where the cost of any extra effort outways the reduction in risk. Doing nothing cannot possibly satisfy this duty.

    The “highway” includes both the carriageway and the footway (and this is made clear by the text of the statute).

    2. Council properties.

    The pathways through most council properties are now considered part of the highway and are subject to the same laws as the highway. There is a recent series of cases on just this topic.

    To the extent that they might not (eg if the general public are not allowed to use the paths), then the Council will be subject to a lesser duty. In respect of the tenants it will be pursuant to their tenancy agreement. In respect of everyone else, it will be pursuant to S. 2 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957. Both duties will require the Council to take all reasonable steps to make the premises reasonably safe.

    As above, doing nothing cannot amount to taking all reasonable steps. Icy paths are obviously not reasonably safe.

    3. There is no way the council can be better off legally by doing nothing. Whoever says they are is either malicious or ignorant.

    4. There is no way a member of the public can be sued for attempting to clear snow and ice. This is because there is no “common law” duty owed in respect of the highway. When people tried to start suing the Council for failing to maintain the highway 60 odd years ago, the Courts said they could not as people (including the council) did not owe any duty in respect of the condition of the highway. That was why the Government introduced the Highways Act, so that a duty was created by Statute. When the Courts said in 2000 that the Highways Act did not extend to snow and ice and that there was no duty to clear snow and ice, the Government introduced the 2003 amendments to the Highways Act.

    Accordingly, anyone who tried to sue a member of the public for clearing the highway of snow and ice will be told that the only person who owes a duty in respect of the Highway is the Highway Authority (the council).

    And I won’t charge a penny for that.

  11. harryT says:

    Oh – and the advice of John McQuater, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, is incorrect. The law is far stricter against the council than he has set out. He is mainly a clinical negligence lawyer.

  12. I can not see the distinction being drawn between sheltered housing and tower blocks, which also include a large number of elderly and disabled people, because the flats are on one level (except where blocks include maisonettes). Indeed the council has been encouraging elderly to move into tower blocks to free up houses for families.

  13. dreamingspire says:

    Finally, finally, just as the un-forecast thaw sets in, Rosie Winterton, a split Minister (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government), pops up on TV to tell us not to worry but get out there and clear the pavements. So I go to the pub and a retired local govt officer tells me its the Local Authority’s responsibility.

  14. Martyn says:

    Ok, so the Council has clear liability assuming all the above is correct. Surely it is possible to get staff to at least clear a pavement on one side of every street that carries most pedestrian traffic, oh and since this is the nation’s cycling city what about clearing all the cycle lanes?

  15. Pingback: Bristol’s Big Freeze: The word on the blogosphere « Bristle’s Blog from the BunKRS

  16. dreamingspire says:

    Martyn, with the outsourcing that’s the norm now, you can’t change the role of people without long contractual negotiations. We just don’t have any snow clearing people available. Law of unintended consequences…
    Probably only the top people have enough flexibility in their job specs to be ordered to go out and clear the snow and ice.

  17. Martyn says:

    Pah! We are now being instructed by the Council via BBC Radio Bristol to use ‘common sense’ and get out and clear the snow – a statutory duty they should perform. I wonder if the Council could use some common sense and get on with it too? hmmm…

  18. thebristolblogger says:

    Amazing. They apply no common sense whatsoever and instead, to evade their responsibilities, resort to dodgy claims that they may be liable for damages if they clear snow.

    Now they tell us to use our common sense, which presumably will make up for the lack of advice, tools and grit?

    Brassnecked or what?

    I wonder if they’ve got Mr Durnell out there using his common sense?

  19. redzone says:

    along with the lack of advice, tools & grit we should add that the authorities have also displayed a lack of planning, action & effort !!! 😕

    there are plenty of excuses & twiddling of thumbs though 😉

    it’s just as well we didn’t get it as bad as some of the other regions in the uk, otherwise we really would have been fucked!!!!!!

  20. Martyn says:

    Links to current information from the Council’s own website, just in case it gets ‘updated’:


    Roads and Pavements

    Roads – gritting


    Roads – gritting
    The Council is responsible for the maintenance of all public highways within Bristol – except the M32 and A4 Bristol Broadway at Avonmouth, which are the responsibility of The Highways Agency. It has a Winter Service Team, operating from October to April, who monitor weather forecasts and road conditions and decide on preventative or reactive treatments.

    Road treatments are carried out by an external contractor, SITA UK, from a base at Hartcliffe using rock salt that comes from underground supplies in Cheshire. The contractor uses a fleet of 10 vehicles owned by Bristol City Council and grits about 25% of the road network in Bristol.

    Preventative treatments

    Precautionary salting
    The Council has a Winter Service Plan that sets out the roads to be treated to prevent the formation of ice. If snow is forecast the rate of salt spread is increased to melt the snow and prevent the formation of ice. Roads are pre-treated in a priority order as follows:

    Principal Roads;
    Major routes connecting population centres and commuter routes;
    Major Bus routes;
    Roads around hospitals and emergency services

    It should be noted that it isn’t always possible to carry out precautionary pre-salting on some or all routes due to vehicle breakdowns, driver illness and short or no notice of frost and ice conditions.

    View map of priority gritting routes (winter)

    Reactive treatments

    Initial reactive treatments follow the same priority routes as for precautionary salting. However, if conditions are particularly severe treatments may be extended to include additional routes, depending upon resources available. The Council also liaises with all necessary agencies to prioritise work depending on the local conditions prevailing at the time.

    Snow Removal
    Combined salting and ploughing is used for the removal of snow over 50mm deep. In exceptional circumstances additional labour and plant will be directed to assist with snow clearance.

    Grit bins
    There are over 600 grit bins strategically placed around the city on minor routes and hills. They are topped up at the start of Winter with Bideford grit. Sand or grit may also be hand applied to hills, footways and shopping centres as resources allow.

    Contact Us
    Customer Service: 0117 922 2100 (8.30am to 8pm)

    Pages in this section
    Weather conditions update

  21. Factoid says:

    Are you all deliberately missing the point? You have voted for less council tax, so you get fewer services.

  22. Seebag says:

    From the BCC website – compare and contrast for even-handedness and fairness

    We are responsible for reasonably maintaining and repairing the highway to a good standard
    …..We rely – and have always relied on the Great Bristol Public to pitch in by clearing and gritting their own pathways or pavements where possible. During times like this we need communities to come together to help and look out for each other
    Rubbish and recycling collections…..
    Your legal responsibility
    As a Bristol City Council householder you have a legal responsibility for the waste you produce. This means that you are responsible for:
    Storing it correctly at your property
    Putting your recycling and rubbish in the correct containers
    Putting your recycling and rubbish containers out for collection by 7am on your collection day
    Collecting your containers off the street as soon as possible after your collection
    ……..We can serve legal notices to residents in the property reminding them of their responsibilities.
    If the problems still continues we will issue a Fixed Penalty Notice. This is an instant fine and could be as high as £100. If fines are not paid then court action can be taken. This could result in a fine and a criminal record.

  23. Martyn says:

    Questions regards gritting and icy pavements will be raised at the next full council meeting on 19th January 2010. The idea of offsetting the cost of gritting against health costs is particularly pertinent because according to ‘Our City’ statistics BCC are spending £121.1m on adult community care for 2009-10, a staggering 33.2% of the council’s budget!

    Cherry picked a couple here:


    I submitted a petition some months ago (shortly after the last cold snap) about gritting of cycle and footpaths.

    Q1. Could Councillor Rogers advise what meetings have taken place following this petition?

    Q2. Could he advise me what actions took place as a result of these meetings?

    Q3. Recent blog postings (of which he is aware) mention the possibility that the extra cost to the NHS in terms of increased injuries could alleviate or offset some of the costs of gritting. Is this true?


    Q5. Many areas of the city remain untreated, leaving residents with dangerous pavements and impossible driving conditions, under current treatment policies. Are you prepared to sanction a total review of highway treatments with a view to
    widening actions to assist residents citywide in future?


    Q6. How much does it cost Bristol City Council to grit 100 metres of average width pavement?

    Q7. Which costs less, paying a home help to be off sick whilst a broken bone mends or gritting 100 metres of pavement?

    See more questions here:

  24. IK Brunel says:

    “Our legal services section have previously advised us not to grit any roads or to collect any rubbish for two weeks as this could leave the city council open to legal action.”

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