No-one in Edinburgh it seems can remember anything like it – the snow began as forecast on the night of Friday 26th November – very early in the year for this part of the country. By Saturday Edinburgh looked gorgeous, with 3-4 inches and bright skies. But then it just kept coming.
By Monday 29th it was really difficult to get around, with traffic struggling and bus schedules seriously disrupted. My staff managed to get in to open the office but I told them to leave early if it looked as if it would be difficult to get home again.
By Wednesday it became clear that the situation was quite serious. The office was receiving more and more calls from people in the higher, southern parts of the constituency who were unable to get out because there had been no gritting or clearing of any residential streets; the council concentrated on doing only the category A roads, ie the main bus routes, but with snow falling all week, no other streets were cleared. Roz, John and Paul fielded call after call from angry and frustrated constituents, unable to get out for shopping, for hospital appointments, or even to try to clear the snow from their front paths.
On Friday, having got back to Edinburgh with considerable difficulty, I went out with my colleague from the Labour Group of the Council, Norma Hart, to Gracemount Avenue and The Murrays to see for myself the difficulties people there were experiencing. We went in to the estates on foot – the only way! – and talked to several constituents who all told the same story of repeated calls to the council only to be told that the gritters and ploughs were working round the clock on keeping the bus routes open. The residential streets are all category C, and so far no streets in that category had been cleared. Amonsgt others we met a man who had had heart and lung surgery earlier this year, digging his car out in order to try and get to the shops because there was hardly any food left in his house.
For the elderly and disabled this had by now become a nightmare of isolation with dwindling supplies of food and medication and no help from the council to make things better for them.
By now the office was putting in call after call tothe council to see if they could get some help out to these stranded parts of the constituency, but the answer was always the same – keeping the main routes open.
The weekend brought some relief in the form of a slight thaw: across the constituency peolple could be seen clearing the pavements and footpaths and digging their cars out from under feet of snow – some cars looked like giant snowballs at the side of the road, so completely covered were they.
But it wasnt to last. On Monday morning I started to head back to London, having heard how difficult the journey was likely to be. Meanwhile Edinburgh was again blanketed in a snowstorm that lasted a full 7 hours, bringing everything to a halt, Lothian buses, which up til now had done a wonderful job of running as full a service as possible, included. The phone lines were again red hot, with more and more people expressing their fury with the council and their strong feelings of having been badly let down. And by now its not just about impassable streets, its also that there have been no refuse collections because all the staff have been diverted to snow clearing but the rubbish is by now starting to pile up with no way of getting rid of it.
Monday night saw temperatures plummet closing the central belt’s entire motorway system. In Edinburgh the temperature dropped to -12, causing widespread problems with ice.
On Tuesday evening the council finally realised that they were not in control and there is talk of calling on the army for help.
There is no doubt that the snow has been extraordinarily heavy; however it was not unexpected. As recently as October they were saying that they were completely prepared for a bad winter, with extra salt and grit and several new machines for clearing the footpaths. Try telling that to my constituents!