A PROPOSED deal to finally clear up the issue of responsibility for clearing ice and snow from footpaths in Ballymoney has fallen through.
Last year’s big freeze over the Christmas period brought mayhem to the town with many footways almost impassable due to hazardous walking conditions.
Scores of town centre traders claimed compacted ice and snow prevented would-be Christmas shoppers from spending locally on what is traditionally their busiest time of the year.
The most vulnerable members of the community were perhaps hit hardest with tales of a number of elderly people being rendered housebound by the dangerous state of footpaths.
The situation provoked somewhat of a blame game with frustrated locals calling on Ballymoney Borough Council, central govenment or Roads Service to tackle the problem by salting walkways.
Many business owners were afraid to clear areas leading into their properties due to any potential insurance issues.
With another harsh winter period predicted this festive season Roads Service and council entered into dialogue in recent months in an attempt to come up with a strategy to best tackle the issue.
But at a meeting of the council on Monday of last week it was announced a deal could not be struck in time for this winter.
The agreement proposed would have led to the two coming together to jointly address the slippery problem.
Minutes circulated to councillors stated: ‘Roads Service (RS) is responsible for roads including footways.
‘It has power to deal with snow and ice on footways, but, due to a lack of resources, has a policy of not doing so. Council does not have the power to do the work but is being offered it as agent of RS.
‘This could also be extended to cover any organisation councils contract for the work.’
The agreement included a list of footways to be treated and when the work would take place.
Roads Service were to provide grit/salt free of charge, extend to council its indemnity in the Roads Order and pay a fee of £478.66 for administration.
The council would assist Roads Service with footway clearance, depending on resources and indemnify Roads Service against claims where it treats footways.
A number of concerns were raised regarding the deal however.
These included the availability of council staff to clear footways which are snowbound, deciding when and where to grit/salt, costs and potential legal action should someone slip and hurt themselves due to the conditions.
The final concern was described as the ‘slippery slope argument’ - i.e. If council was to assume responsibility, what other roles would it be asked to take on?
A number of suggested options were put forward to resolve the problem such as Roads Service amending its policy on dealing with ice and snow on a limited number of footways and safeguards against workers carrying out the work being sued. Neither could be put in place in time for this year, it was claimed.
The drawing up of a contract by Roads Service with council to carry out the work could also not be agreed due to Roads Service budgetary constraints.
Councillors at Ballymoney discussed the situation at a Corporate Services committee meeting last month where they were warned about setting a precedent in Northern Ireland and the difficulties with accurately budgeting the scheme.
After discussion, it was agreed by councillors ‘to recommend that council do not sign up to the partnership arrangements with Roads Service but that the Chief Executive (of Ballymoney council) explore options as to what could be done in an emergency situation based on arrangements operated last year in (the) town centre including flexibility available for provision of salt supplies to village centres’.
Last winter Ballymoney Chamber of Commerce purchased a grit spreader and employed a member of staff to use it.
And the council did their bit, providing the grit for use.
At the time, president of the body, Winnie Mellett, told the Times: “We decided something had to be done and took the initiative.
“People have to be able to walk the streets safely.
“We don’t have a shopping centre so it is essential people can move about freely.
“Nobody is taking responsibility for footpaths so we decided to do it ourselves.”
A group of Dalriada rugby players also dug deep for the community, spending a morning clearing the town centre in the midst of the worst of the weather last Christmas.