An accident which led to a young mother losing control of her car after dropping her children off at school has prompted fresh calls for an immediate review of winter gritting.
Political representatives in the area have called for urgent action to remedy the situation, saying the current system is not working and, unless something is done, lives will be lost.
SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, Sinn Fein Councillor Darren McNally and SDLP Councillor Sharon Haughey-Grimley have all urged the powers-that-be to act in light of Monday’s accident.
It happened on the Clea Road – close to Clea Primary – after a young mother had left children off at school.
The area was very icy at the time and no gritting had been undertaken.
The woman lost control of her vehicle; while it sustained damage, fortunately she was not injured.
But there are fears that the lack of winter gritting in the area will eventually and inevitably lead to a fatality.
To that end, SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon has written to Roads Minister Chris Hazzard and invited him to meet with himself and local residents and representatives of two schools – Clea Primary and St Joseph’s PS, Madden.
He said it was not acceptable that the Clea Road and Farnaloy Road at Madden were contained on a “secondary gritting list”.
Councillor O’Hanlon – in his letter to the Minister – flagged up “near accidents on both roads” on Monday as a result of neither having been treated.
And he wrote: “School staff still struggle to get to school on frosty mornings. In fact on numerous occasions in recent years some schools have had to close because of the state of the roads.
“Both areas are busy rural communities and both the Clea Road and Farnaloy Road serve thriving rural primary schools. The Clea Road serves over 120 individual properties, both residential and commercial; the Farnaloy Road serves St Joseph’s Primary School which has over 130 pupils plus staff, as well as two churches and a hamlet.
“In addition both roads are used by school buses from other local primary schools as well as secondary schools in Keady and Armagh.
“Over recent years there have been countless accidents on both roads on frosty mornings or periods of snow. One such incident involved a school bus going to St Patrick’s High School in Keady.”
The local representative referred to Monday’s accident on the Clea Road when the mother lost control of her vehicle, adding: “Her car was damaged and it is only by the grace of God that she was not seriously injured.”
Councillor O’Hanlon said the current classification for secondary gritting was “not suitable”; he said it was inconsistent and the current requirement for 1500 vehicle movements was “unrealistic and unachievable” and, unless it was reduced, he did not believe it would result in any of these school roads being gritted.
In the meantime, having invited the Minister to meet in the area and see for himself the situation, the SDLP representative added: “I would argue that all school bus routes should be gritted and would ask that you give this consideration when reviewing the policy.”
Armagh Sinn Féin Councillor Darren McNally has also said Monday’s accident close to Clea School – about a mile and a half from Keady – once again highlighted the need for a review on gritting policy in relation to rural roads and rural schools in particular.
He said: “Unfortunately current criteria does not allow the gritting in the locality of this school as it states that there must be 1500 vehicles a day on the road before Transport NI will consider gritting. This has worked against Clea, St Joseph’s in Madden and other rural-based schools.
“I spoke with Transport NI Officials after the most recent incident. Whilst they do undertake to grit rural schools in adverse weather conditions (snow), they do so only after the rest of the road gritting network has been completed.
“I have pointed out to them the concerns of vehicle drivers and pedestrians who access Clea School and my own fears on the grounds of health and safety. Hopefully they will monitor conditions and grit outside Clea and the other rural schools in the locality rather than wait on a serious incident.
“I have made the case that these are exceptional circumstances and deserve a positive response.”
Councillor McNally urged all elected representatives to work together to address the concerns of local residents, pedestrians and motorists and “lobby for a change in current policy”.
“We do feel that irrespective of numbers there is a duty of care to ensure that our rural roads and in particular access to our schools is as safe as practically possible,” he added. “I and my colleagues will continue to lobby Transport NI and the Minister to ensure that current criteria is challenged and reviewed. I urge all local representatives to work with me to obtain that objective.”
With icy conditions right across the area on Monday and more forecast, SDLP Councillor Sharon Haughey-Grimley expressed her anger as rural roads across Armagh had been left without salt piles despite the cold snap having been anticipated.
Cllr Haughey said: “It is a disgrace that rural roads have been left without any salt piles this winter. Freezing temperatures were forecasted for this weekend, yet the majority of rural roads across the Cusher area were left without any salt.
“Many rural dwellers across Granemore, Clady and rural Poyntzpass were left to tackle seriously dangerous roads without any salt to spread.
“Salt piles are essential on rural roads so that rural dwellers and farmers can throw out some grit to help ease the frozen roads.
“I have been contacted by a lot of very angry rural dwellers and I continue to liaise with Transport NI to ensure all roads in need of salt get it as a matter of urgency.
“We have only just started the cold weather so it’s vital that Transport NI are effective in gritting all routes on the schedule, further gritting and salt piles at schools and replenish rural roads with salt piles.
“The local division of Transport NI have given me a commitment to get to as many of these roads as possible over next day or two and they’ve highlight further freezing temperatures are forecasted for later in the week.”
Councillor Haughey-Grimley said Transport NI had moved to take action on some of the roads which she had reported and thanked the local workers for their efforts.
And she urged: “Anyone who needs salt piles on their road can let me know and I’ll make the appropriate request.”