Who should clear away the snow?
Cambridge looks beautiful, and numerous photographers are out capturing their colleges in the snow for the next prospectus (rumour has it that a particularly fetching shot of a snowman at Emma some years ago did more for the college's applications than a lifetime of school visits). You can see the view from the windows of my college room on the right.
It is also treacherous. Hardly any roads have been gritted or salted, and many have become skating rinks. The pavements likewise are uncleared, and you walk on them at your peril -- even two days after the snow fell.
So who is supposed to clear the snow and why don't they?
Answer one: the local council is supposed to do it, but they don't, first of all, because it is uneconomic.
That is to say: the cost of housing all those gritting trucks throughout the year, keeping men on stand-by, and buying the salt and the grit, is simply more that the cost to the local economy of closing down for the few days a year when the snow falls. Sure. But I always wonder if that takes into account the economic cost (let alone the personal) of the several elderly people who will end up for a few months in the local hospital because they broke their hips after coming a real cropper on the ice. Does anyone do the joined up thinking to compute that cost into the equation? I bet not (different budget, eh?).
Then, as one of my mates pointed out to me last night, there is the Thatcherite legacy. Once services were contracted out, the idea was that the Council paid some private company for (eg) the roads to be swept. There was no possibility of transferring those road sweepers to gritting, if that was not what they had been contracted to do. There is now only a small body of council employees who can be deployed as needed -- rather than hired for a specific job.
Compare the 1960s. When I was a kid I remember a man called Dicky Lushcott (how could you forget that name?) who lived near Church Preen in Shropshire. In the summers he was out mending the roads with a Council steam roller. In the winters he was throwing grit and salt on the same roads from the back of a truck. There are no more Dicky Lushcotts.
But back to the pavements. Answer two is that the householder is supposed to clear in front of their own place. Well, if so, the burghers of Cambridge are a bit remiss. And indeed, I confess, we have cleared and salted our long front path and the steps to our basement (I didn't want the postie or the milkie breaking their legs), but have made little inroad into the pavement outside.
I think that we should be made to, as -- I understand -- is the position in the US. But CAN we be made to, and at what cost?
When I went to pick up the bread on this last snowy Saturday, I discovered that the excellent local baker had (uncharacteristically) not done a thing about clearing the snow off his forecourt. He explained that he believed that if someone had an accident on the snow AFTER he had cleared it, he would be liable. If he had done nothing, he wouldn't. I later discovered that this line had been put out by Sky News (and no doubt others)
True or not? Probably not. A legal friend suggested to me that if you had acted to mitigate the danger, you would not be liable if someone still slipped (though if you had piled the snow up in a stupid place thereby ADDING to the danger, that would be different).
So what do we need? A flexible local authority workforce which can be redeployed if necessary. A sense that a few grannies with broken hips is not a price worth paying for a snowfall. A clear instruction to us all to look after our own pavements, without fear of the long arm of the law.