BALLYMONEY Borough Council has finally agreed to clear the town’s main footpaths of snow and ice if a big freeze hits this winter.
Although four councillors voted against in a recorded vote, a majority of councillors agreed to enter into the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) supplied by Roads Service.
The resolution of this issue, which has rumbled on for a number of years, will come as a relief to many Ballymoney shoppers and workers who will remember the treacherous state the streets were in for weeks back in 2010.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood wrote specially to the council asking them to set aside their reservations “in the interests of both public confidence and safety ... without in any way accepting the formal responsibility of the function”.
After a long discussion where issues such as indemnity, costs, legal issues and provision for the villages were discussed, Alderman Bill Kennedy (DUP) proposed that council sign up to the MOU, with a list of streets in Ballymoney already agreed and also that council endeavour to ensure that the main shopping streets of the villages also receive salt.
Councillor Philip McGuigan (Sinn Fein), who had argued strongly for the villages to be included, seconded the motion.
Only main areas of Ballymoney town are currently on the list.
With the principle agreed the Chief Executive John Dempsey will report back to councillors with cost estimates.
Discussions will also take place about building the costs into next year’s rates estimate and potentially widening the current list of streets to include the villages.
The MOU offers a limited indemnity to council and a payment by Roads Service of £478.66 for administrative costs. Roads Service also supply grit.
Back in 2009, though streets remained treacherous for days, neither Roads Service nor councils would accept responsibility leading to a public outcry.
When the ice returned in 2010 no agreement was reached but at least 18 out of the 26 councils including Ballymoney, were unofficially clearing snow. In October 2011 key principles were agreed between NILGA (NI Local Government Association) and DRD to resolve the matter.
However since then Ballymoney has refused to enter into the formal understanding with Roads Service.
The view from some councillors at that stage was that street clearing was the responsibility of DRD and Council should not have to do the work without being given a budget to do so.
Since then Council has found itself increasingly isolated as all but two other councils have entered into the MOU.