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Plea to reconsider gritting policy at primary school ‘before someone loses their life’

Parents 'absolutely terrified' of school run during winter weather

Parents taking children to Clea Primary School insist they are dicing with death every time they try to do a school run during winter weather.

One man said he was “absolutely terrified” on Thursday morning because of black ice making conditions hazardous as he left his children to school.

Meanwhile, a local councillor has said the inconsistent approach over gritting this road is actually adding to the dangers.

SDLP councillor Thomas O’Hanlon insists it might take a tragedy before action is taken to try and improve public safety.

The most recent correspondence in response to local calls came in December 2016 when Roads Minister Chris Hazzard pointed to the outcome of a 2001 review of winter procedures.

He wrote to the councillor at that time, stating: “One of the key outcomes of that review, which was fully debated and accepted by the Assembly, was that the practice of targeting the limited resources available for this service, on the busier main through routes, should continue.

“The review also recognised that to include all school bus routes, would more than double the cost of the salting operation, and would involve the treatment of some very minor rural roads.

“Apart from the substantial initial capital investment that would be required, it would also cost over £5 million extra each year.”

Mr Hazzard said both the Clay and Fernaloy Roads were included on the schedule of rural roads which, during periods of snow and ice, could receive “secondary salting” when “resources permit”.

Mr O’Hanlon says this lulls parents using the road into a false sense of security.

He told Armagh I that the Clay Road was “a death-trap” and has called once again for its inclusion on the gritting schedule.

“It was just like a sheet of black ice,” said Councillor O’Hanlon after Thursday morning’s experiences.

“It is miracle no-one has been killed on the road as it a death-trap on a cold or frosty morning. Local residents are sick, sore and tired of pleading for the road to be gritted and it’s a plea that has fallen on deaf ears.

“This morning was exceptionally bad. There is a very popular school on the road with almost 90 pupils, plus staff. There are over 150 properties on the Clay Road and side roads off it. This is no back lane we’re talking about.

“This morning cars were sliding all over the road. One parent taking their children to the school said he was absolutely terrified. This just can’t continue any longer.

“Over recent years we have tried everything; letter-writing campaigns to Conor Murphy when he was Roads Minister and then again to Danny Kennedy, when he held that position as well.

“In December 2016, I invited the then Roads Minister Chris Hazzard to come and see the road for himself, along with the Fernaloy Road, Madden. He refused to meet saying seeing he was unable to add either the Fernaloy Road or Clay Road to the gritting schedule and there would be little benefit in meeting.

“It’s infuriating for residents and those who take their children to the school each day.”

He said his colleague, Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty, had recently sought to have the winter gritting policy reviewed, in the hope all school bus routes could be included in the winter gritting schedule.

But this too, says Councillor O’Hanlon, was “knocked back”.

“The Department say the Clay Road is on its secondary gritting schedule or, in other words, they might grit it if they have time and grit left when all other roads are done.

“This is too inconsistent and hazardous. One morning you’re taking the children to school and the road seems fine as it has been gritted, the next morning the road is like an ice rink. This really cannot continue.

“I have again written to the Department pleading our case. This really is a matter of life and death and I fear we could get to the point where someone will lose their life before we see action taken.”

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