Snow clearance crews hailed after 'fantastic' coordinated response to A835 road drama in Wester Ross; Lessons will be learned from cold snap incident that left motorists stranded, says MSP
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FANTASTIC snow clearance crews and rescuers have been praised for their Herculean efforts during recent life-threatening snow storms, but there are also lessons to be learned a Ross MSP believes.
Maree Todd said police, Highland Council, the Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team and Bear Scotland "co-ordinated a fantastic response" in an "incredibly challenging situation" last week when 22 vehicles became trapped overnight in two metre deep drifts on the A835 at Loch Droma.
But she also believes that lessons will have been learned after some residents in Wester Ross questioned how prepared the area had been for the heaviest snows in a decade.
Highland Council is understood to have brought in specialist snow blowing equipment from Perth to help tackle a huge road blockage on the Fain on the A832 this week – sparking some residents to label it "crazy" that the council did not have enough machinery to hand.
The council, for its part, said it had carried out significant investment in the fleet before the winter, taking delivery of 10 new snow ploughs and operating around 100 gritters. It is understood that its own snow blower has been kept busy in the Cairngorm National Park area this winter.
Reacting to the rescue at Loch Droma and subsequent local concerns, Ms Todd said: “This was an incredibly challenging situation and I was glad to hear that everyone involved came through safely.
“I understand the concerns raised over preparedness. There is also reason to ask why an early decision was not made by Bear and Police Scotland to close the road. I am certain, however, that lessons will have been learned from this incident and going forward we will be better prepared for heavy snowfall on our Highland roads.
“It’s also important to acknowledge the unprecedented pressures currently on all our local services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I know the Highland Council and Bear Scotland are working hard to keep our roads safe and clear lifeline routes.
A council spokesman said: “We are doing our best in difficult conditions – the north-west Ross-shire and Sutherland area has been hit by high winds so there has been significant amount of drifting of snow.
"The service is currently also supporting NHS Highland by providing additional gritting and traffic management of vaccination centres across Highland, which has also had to be prioritised.
"The Highland Council’s gritting policy advises that it is not possible to treat all our roads at the same time so a prioritisation system in place. This means that the strategic network, main urban roads, bus routes, routes serving hospitals and schools will be treated first with the remaining network following as resources permit.
"However in severe weather conditions, it may not be possible to keep roads clear of snow and where this poses a significant risk to the travelling public, decisions will be taken in consultation with Police Scotland to close roads.”
And Bear Scotland added that its teams have been "working round the clock" to keep routes clear. It has nine winter vehicles assigned to the A835 and the A9 north of the Tore roundabout – including two 32-tonne, eight wheeler spreaders that are some of the largest in the UK.