At the time of writing the snow has all gone though the Met Office are dropping broad hints about more to come, so a few words about how they tackle this problem in Germany may be instructive. We spent the Christmas holiday driving in North Rhein-Westphalia and can report that the Autobahns are kept ploughed, swept, gritted – and for all I know licked – clean, but move off the motorway and you’re very much on your own. Even busy city streets are axle-deep in slush and ice and everywhere else you’re driving on compacted snow. No attempt is made to grit these roads and if you want to park you have to get out your shovel and dig yourself a space.
They do however expect every motorist to have a set of special winter tyres, to be fitted at the first sign of snow. How effective they are I’m not sure as the local WDR news was carrying reports that so far 1400 vehicles had been damaged in road accidents since the snows started, and that was just in North Rhein-Westphalia, an area equal to a bit over one and a half ‘Waleses’ (a ‘Wales’ being the standard unit of comparison for journalists) but with six times the population. To be fair, the 18 million people in NRW must have between them something in the order of 6 million cars, so 1400 prangs isn’t too bad. Not when you consider there were at least half a dozen accidents just in the Glaven Valley (population barely 1800). Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned this – it might give the Highways ideas. One thing we can be sure of, in the face of severely squeezed budgets, they are not going to expand the gritting regime any time soon.
Gritting, at least of footpaths, is one of the services the County is trying to off-load onto Parish councils. The ‘Big Conversation’, which I mentioned last month, has now come to the end of its consultation phase (perhaps that last phrase should be in inverted commas too as they have almost certainly made up their minds long ago). Mobile libraries have not been axed (yet) but are likely to come just once a month. Grants to village halls are being phased out, arts funding has been totally chopped, large chunks of Social Services have been pared to the bone, and subsidies to rural bus services are going to be sharply cut back which could severely inconvenience the half dozen or so people who use the Sanders’ bus to get to Holt. The Norwich Park-and-Ride scheme is also going to be subject to higher charges, fewer buses and no waiting or toilet facilities – indeed one or two sites may be closed completely. I suppose they are working on the principle that with the huge increases in fuel costs and rising unemployment nobody will be able to afford to drive into Norwich anyway.
Your council will be discussing in detail which services we feel we need to, or are competent to, take over from the County. We already pay for the grass cutting and hedge trimming so regular care of the footpaths and lokes will likely be added to our responsibilities. We do not have the resources for filling in potholes and clearing grips and gullies so for that we’ll just have to hope the Highways Ranger service continues. Significantly worse services in return for the same or higher taxes doesn’t seem like much of a deal to me.
Our Police representative sent his/her apologies but as there were no crimes to report there didn’t seem to be much point in schlepping all the way from Wells, the price of fuel being what it is.
Councils, including parish councils, are legally obliged to communicate with their electorate, whether the electorate wants to be communicated with or not. We have been getting some stick from the District for not having a web site of our own so, as the Cley village web site seems alas to be moribund, we have decided we must get our own site set up, a site that we can control ourselves and make sure that it is regularly updated with minutes, agendas, news and even these reports. It should also have sections devoted to the village’s past, present and future with notes on planning (the Design Guide again) and other boring stuff. If any of you have ideas for other subjects that could be included – a webcam trained on the bottle bank perhaps – then do get in touch. A sum of money from our reserves has been earmarked for this project so it won’t cost you anything except the small on-going cost of hosting the site.
The bottle bank is full again – by the time you read this it should have been emptied – thanks to some prodigious drinking by residents and visitors over the holiday period. And no more than a handful of coloured glass bottles in the clear glass bank… If the bottle bank is getting full you are quite at liberty to phone the contractors on 01842 753129 and ask them to empty it. If they ask for a postcode quote NR25 7RJ. There’s no guarantee they’ll jump to it – or that they can manoeuvre their lorry into the car park when they arrive – but at least you will have done your bit for Cley. Should you also feel like tearing all your clothes off, there will soon be a textiles recycling bank provided at the same site by the Salvation Army.
We had a good turnout of parishioners last month – there’s nothing like a bit of controversy to stir up interest – so let’s hope we have even more next month. Potential councillors are very welcome to attend at 7pm on Tuesday 1 February in the village hall Club Room. Thought for the month: why make life difficult when, with a bit of effort, you can make it well nigh impossible.