by Colin Campbell
A YEAR which took an evil twist comes to an end with a more predictable form of aggression, as Inverness and the Highlands are plunged into winter deep freeze.
Anyone thinking the virus is the most dangerous thing out there should have tried walking on the Inverness pavements, or the side of the road for that matter, over the past two days.
There was much less chance of ending up in Raigmore on a plague lifesaving respirator than ending up in the orthopaedic department with a broken arm, leg or neck.
Much of the city outwith the centre was covered in a thin layer of snowy slush with skating rink ice conditions underneath. The higher up the worse it gets. Any more than 100 feet above sea level and you face the extremes of winter dangerland.
A slight rise in temperature has meant a mini-thaw has now set in, easing the risks. But more harsh weather and very low temperatures are forecast in the week ahead.
The council has a small armada of gritting vehicles and workers to try to counter this situation. Around £5million is devoted to winter road maintenance.
Main roads and central areas are covered, but in most parts of Inverness and the Highlands you’ve as much chance of seeing a gritter as you have of winning the lottery.
On its website the council states it has one pavement blower. How many pavements is that solo contraption expected to blow in a day?
A guesstimate would be about one ten thousandth of the length of snow and icebound pavements in Inverness alone.
And £5 million is a paltry sum for the scale of the region-wide task involved. It’s a tiny fraction of the council’s overall budget.
Year after year the councils 1500 strong “citizens panel” set up to guide and influence spending priorities puts tackling the perils of winter at the very top of the list.
And year after year when a deep freeze strikes people across the region are left in the same predicament.
This year may not turn out as bad as the icebound nightmare of three years ago when even pavements in and around Inverness city centre were left for over a week covered in sheet ice before the council finally got round to dealing with an incredibly dangerous situation. Dozens of people ended up in hospital with fall injuries. There were promises that would not happen again.
When hard winter strikes the city centre is safe enough but most areas beyond that are, for older people especially, too dangerous to risk going out in.
They are effectively trapped in their homes.
The council would say they do their best in these situations, and if they spend more money on winter maintenance what are they expected to cut to make up for it.
People would have suggestions. £5 spent million on winter maintenance, and £300,000 of public money to be spent on the much reviled riverside Gathering Place would seem a questionable balance in priorities, to say the very least.
How many additional pavements could that £300,000 be used to clear?
Neither does domestic winter entrapment seem any more bearable for those who remember that just a few months ago a council official walked off with a £475,000 redundancy payout.
The council is also committed to its carbon-neutral anti-pollution agenda and wants to increase the number of people riding bikes and walking rather than using cars.
But riding a bike on some days this week would be akin to trying to commit suicide.
In winter those who are able to get in their cars a few steps from their front door have a huge advantage over those who don’t have a car. No wonder there are so many vehicles clogging up the Highland capital, and “carbon neutral” attempts to encourage “green transport” – fine in summer but impossible in winter – are doomed to failure.
Temperatures are expected to rise slightly so the weather may partly come to the rescue this week.
But the council, with its overstretched gritters and its one and only pavement blower definitely won’t.