Lack of winter gritting an accident waiting to happen: MSP

An MSP says she is “seriously worried” about winter road gritting in the region after asking about an incident where school children were stuck on a school bus due to icy conditions.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, wrote in November last year to Highland Council after hearing about the Lochcarron/Kishorn high school bus.

She received a reply from the local authority last week. (Feb 5)

At the time, according to the Kishorn Community Facebook Page, the children were all safe on board the bus after it was stuck, but they awaited a gritter to help out.

However, by 5pm the gritter had also gone off the road and children were said to be walking under escort by the bus driver to Achmore to get a Skyeways bus. Everyone was safe.

“I know the area extremely well, having gone to school there, and was very worried that this could happen again,” said Mrs Grant.

“So, I was taken aback when I received the reply from Highland Council that it ‘unfortunately cannot guarantee that roads are clear of ice during the winter’ and that it ‘simply did not have the resources to grit roads more frequently’.

“I understand that councils need priorities but the fact that a school bus route is being omitted is just another sign that our local authorities are being starved of resources by the Scottish Government and are being faced with difficult decisions.

“We have been lucky so far this winter that it has been unseasonably mild. Let’s hope that this won’t happen again because children should not have to face a walk, in icy conditions, because the local authority hasn’t got enough money.”

Highland Council explained that the school bus was on a ‘secondary route’ and therefore it was not pre-treated during cold weather.

“It had been gritted the morning of the incident but had become icy again by the time the school bus used the road that afternoon,” said the council reply.

“Unfortunately, gritting vehicles are susceptible to icy roads too, and the gritter sent to the incident did also slip off the road and had to be recovered.

“Councillors and members of roads staff were kept regularly updated from the time the school bus became stuck until the road was clear again later that evening.

“The Highland Council covers a vast road network and unfortunately cannot guarantee that roads are clear of ice during the winter. Each road on the gritting routes is treated according to its priority, and we simply do not have the resources to grit roads more frequently. This was an unfortunate incident but is fairly uncommon and has not happened again this winter.”