Rural Schools: Winter Service

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 17th January 2017.

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Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP 2:00 pm, 17th January 2017

5. Mrs Barton asked the Minister for Infrastructure how his Department’s winter service is implemented in relation to rural schools in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. (AQO 907/16-21)

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

The processes and procedures operating in Fermanagh and South Tyrone are no different from anywhere else. Those processes were reviewed following a period of prolonged ice and snow in November and December 2008 that resulted in the closure of a number of rural schools. The disruption at the time prompted the then Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, to ask officials to carry out an examination of the operational response to areas around rural schools and, in particular, those that were regularly affected by adverse weather conditions. This exercise resulted in a revised winter service policy that provided priority secondary salting to schools with a history of closure due to inaccessibility associated solely with the presence of snow or ice on the adjacent network. It was recognised that it would not be possible to salt all roads to such schools. The secondary salting is, therefore, carried out on the shortest route from the school to a road on the salting schedule.

I should highlight that secondary salting occurs after the main salting schedule has been completed and when problems remain with ice and snow on untreated roads. It does not occur in response to normal frost conditions, when such roads are passable with care and would benefit little from the application of salt, as they would not experience the substantial traffic needed to disperse the salt solution across the carriageway.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP 2:15 pm, 17th January 2017

As you will be aware, the main entrance to a school is very often not on the main road, it is on another road that is not on the gritting route. Can you give consideration to such roads being salted and gritted?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

As I have just outlined, it is entirely unrealistic to expect the Department to be able to salt every single rural road in particular across the North. It simply would not be affordable or practical in any sense. So, we have to prioritise. As I said, when it comes to schools, the best solution here is to salt that route of the shortest distance.

I make two appeals here. Schools go above and beyond what is expected of them to ensure that their entrances and areas around the school are made safe, but the Government cannot be around every corner with salt in a bucket. We need to make sure that drivers take that extra bit of care. We have been fairly fortunate so far this winter that the winter has been mild, but we are talking about millions of pounds invested in salting our network, and we do that. You would be talking about hundreds of millions of pounds if we were to expand it out to every single rural road, and I am sure that nobody in the Chamber would be calling for that.

Photo of Richie McPhillips Richie McPhillips Social Democratic and Labour Party

On access to schools, especially on roads in south Fermanagh that are prone to flooding, can the Minister provide an update on the works promised over a year ago to be undertaken on the Wattlebridge Road, Newtownbutler, Derrylin Road, Smith's Strand, Lisnaskea and Inishmore Road, Lisbellaw?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

As this question relates to salting and not to the issue that the Member has raised, I would be more than happy to correspond with him if he wants to write to me. I am sure that he is able to get onto a website and see the Department's address.