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Grit Bins

Volume 708: debated on Tuesday 8 February 2022

Before we begin, Mr Speaker would like to remind hon. Members to observe social distancing and encourage Members to wear masks.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the provision of grit bins.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I appreciate that for many observers, especially those in places such as London and the south-east, the provision of grit bins may not sound like a major issue, but in my home in the High Peak, things are bit different. Buxton, for example, sits 1,000 feet above sea level. As a result, we get a lot of weather. On average, temperatures here are at least 3° cooler than in London, and we can get snowfall as late as April and May—known locally as lambing snows. In November, Storm Arwen struck, leaving many homes in the more remote rural areas of the High Peak cut off, many roads impassable and some homes without power for as many as five nights. Just over a week ago, I was door-knocking in Harpur Hill when I got caught out by Storm Malik, which again left many without power.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in places such as High Peak and Hyndburn and Haslingden, severe weather affects residents? The provision of grit bins is key around schools, for example, where severe weather can cause severe delays for people who are trying to get their children to school. Getting grit bins in the places where they need to be is something that local councils really need to focus on.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who is a fantastic champion for her constituents in Hyndburn. I will talk about schools later in my speech.

As I said, I was caught out in the middle of Storm Malik. A number of local residents who were waiting for the power to come back on were surprised to find their local MP on their doorstep, checking up on them while looking like a drowned rat. All this weather, along with the beautiful landscape of the Peak District and the poor quality of many rural roads, means that grit provision is of particular importance in my constituency.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. In my constituency of Congleton, the provision of grit bins is an issue not just in the very extreme weather that he mentions, but each winter. Residents of Mow Cop, in my constituency, which has very steep gradients up to it, are concerned about safe access in icy weather and concerned that the roads are appropriately gritted—not least because many of the residents are elderly, and we need to ensure that access for emergency vehicles and emergency home deliveries is secured.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, particularly about the impact that this issue has on the elderly.

Grit bins are a big issue in my constituency, but unfortunately local provision is frequently not up to the task. In High Peak there are multiple tiers of local government: Derbyshire County Council, High Peak Borough Council and a whole plethora of town and parish councils. Typically, parish and town councils take responsibility for providing and maintaining grit bins in High Peak, with varying degrees of effectiveness. However, Buxton, Glossop, Hadfield and Padfield are not parished, and therefore they fall between the tiers of local government on grit bin provision.

Does the hon. Member agree that district nurses and community care workers sometimes put their lives on the line as they attempt to make their way into housing developments to look after their patients? Those areas may have no grit bins because the gradient is half a degree less than that specified in legislation. The legislation prevents grit bins from being put into the estates where they should be, and they must be extended to areas where those with health needs live. It is important that nurses who need to visit constituents have access. Councils back home, in agreement with community groups, make grit and grit bins available on estates, where the local people themselves disperse the grit. There may be some ways of doing what we do in Northern Ireland.

It is always a pleasure to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I will talk in a few moments about access for emergency services and health care, and the impact of grit bins.

As I was saying, large parts of the High Peak are not parished and fall between the layers of local government. Unfortunately, High Peak Borough Council and Derbyshire County Council are in a long-running dispute about who should take responsibility for new grit bins in those areas, leaving places such as Buxton, Glossop, Hadfield and Padfield at a disadvantage compared with the rest of the High Peak. Given the often extreme weather that we face in the High Peak, the failure of those two councils to resolve this dispute is deeply disappointing.

As co-chair of the all-party group on local democracy, which represents town and parish councils, I declare an interest. I agree with my hon. Friend that those most local councils are of utmost importance. In my community, it is not just about the split between district council and county council; we are a unitary county. I have had two successes with getting grit bins in: in Chapel Drive in Consett, and in George Street in Dipton. However, places such as Leadgate, Burnhope, Consett and Tow Law—former pit villages that are often described locally as having their own micro-climates because they are so exposed on the tops of hills—also need provision as quickly as possible. Does he agree that the issue is not just the tiers of local government, but the assessments made by those local authorities, whatever level of control they have?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a fantastic champion for the people of Durham.

This winter, I have received a huge number of complaints from constituents who have been unable to go to work, take their children to school or even attend appointments to see their doctor, because of the lack of gritting on their streets. They have even been unable to leave their home safely in bad weather.

This is particularly acute on new build estates, where no grit bins have been provided. Given the huge scale of house building in Glossop and Buxton, this problem will only grow. On Scotty Brook Crescent in Shirebrook, a short walk from my Glossop home, local resident Kim Price and local councillor Paul Hardy have been trying in vain for over a year to get a new grit bin installed, but without success. Similarly, on Carr Road in Burbage, local resident Greg Windows has been leading calls for a grit bin on his estate. Greg told me how he and his neighbours live in constant watch for bad weather and are forced to park their cars on the main road at the top of the estate whenever snow is forecast, for fear of being left stranded.

Back in November, when we had Storm Arwen, an ambulance became stuck in the snow and ice on Victoria Park Road in Fairfield. Local residents were quick to respond and cleared the road with shovels, digging out the ambulance. While this demonstrates the generous community spirit of the people of High Peak, it also highlights the failure of the local councils to engage constructively with each other to deliver an essential service. The councils’ failure has a long-term cost measured in broken hips, as residents slip on untreated ice. Leaving people stranded and unable to go about their lives also puts a significant strain on their mental health and wellbeing.

For the reasons that I have set out today, hundreds of people have signed my petition urging Derbyshire County Council and High Peak Borough Council to get around the table to resolve their dispute and get on with installing new grit bins in Glossop, Buxton, Hadfield and Padfield.

My hon. Friend is making an important point about grit bins. Does he agree that it would be helpful for the Minister, in responding to this debate, to consider the provision of grit bins within a highways authority’s overarching obligation? Section 41(1A) of the Highways Act 1980 states that highways authorities

“are under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice.”

That is an overarching obligation that should surely apply, whether or not grit bins are provided.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In High Peak, we boast some beautiful scenery but also some of the most difficult rural roads, which are often closed during bad weather. It is the duty of the local authority to do everything it can to keep those key links open.

I am pleased to see the Minister in his place. I want to use this opportunity to call on the Government to consider whether legislative changes are necessary in order to try to clear up the ambiguity of responsibility for utilities, such as grit bins, in two-tier authorities.

In my local council area, one big issue has been that councillors are asked to use their local grant allocation to fund this, when funding should come from the local authority. Councillors Doug Oliver and Mike McGaun, in the Lanchester ward, have been told that if they want to get grit bins for Burnhope, one of the villages in my constituency, they will have to use their own funds from their allocation to provide grit bins themselves. That creates a problem between areas that really need them and those that do not. It should not be down to local councillors to provide them, because such services should be provided at a council or national level.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A number of my local councillors are also stepping up to the plate and helping to provide those grit bins. Councillors such as Nigel Gourlay, Linda Grooby and Kath Sizeland are all excellent local champions for their areas.

Developers have a role to play in installing basic amenities when they are building new developments. As the Government look at reforms to the planning system, I hope they will consider placing a duty of care on new developments to include those basic facilities.

There are many different areas that we can consider when it comes to grit bins, so I look forward to the Minister’s comments. In the meantime, my message is clear: Derbyshire County Council and High Peak Borough Council have got to stop the games and the finger pointing. They have do the right thing, get around the table, resolve this petty dispute and start providing more grit bins for the people of the High Peak.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan) for bringing such an important topic to the attention of the House. He is a fantastic advocate for the people of High Peak, which is an area I know well, as it is just over the hill from where I grew up. I was on holiday there last summer. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with fantastic communities, but not one where anyone would want to be stuck on an ungritted road with a steep slope. My hon. Friend is quite right to bring this important issue to the attention of the House. I was haunted by the image in his speech of the ambulance stuck in the snow, which is exactly what we all fear.

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution, and my hon. Friends the Members for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for North West Durham (Mr Holden), and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for their important contributions. As several of them pointed out, the Department for Transport has overall responsibility for the approach to gritting. I am sure Ministers in that Department will be playing close attention to our debate.

In terms of current requirements on local government, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton pointed out that the Highways Act 1980 includes the requirement

“to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice.”

It would be impossible for central Government to mandate exactly how often every single road in the country should be gritted, but Members of Parliament play an important role by highlighting where there are problems and where particular roads should be gritted more often.

I am sure the issues around Leadgate, Consett and Burnhope in north-west Durham, and around Mow Cop, which my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton mentioned, will now be firmly on the radar of those local authorities, who, I hope, will take appropriate action. Normally, local authorities tend to focus on A roads and busier B roads, but there are always particularly important roads that do not fit under those headings.

In areas such mine, with new-build properties going in, does the Minister think it could be appropriate for the council to stipulate as part of the planning consent that grit bins must be provided? I am thinking particularly of Meadow Rise in Consett, where my Delves Lane councillors Michelle Walton and Angela Stirling have had to provide a new grit bin from their own resources. If that had been part of the planning consent, they would not have had to do it. Does the Minister think that the Government could nudge councils in that direction?

That seems an entirely appropriate point for my hon. Friend to raise, and his local council will want to take it into account in its plan-making process, as would any council, particularly in a hilly area. It is for local authorities to decide whether grit bins are provided and, as a result, most do. As hon. Members have pointed out, the responsibility is divided between parish, district, borough and county councils. Although county councils can provide grit bins, the functions are typically delegated to other councils, such as towns, districts and parishes.

There are different ways to address the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak has brought to the House this morning. One is through greater devolution of power, and he will know that Derby and Derbyshire is one of the first areas with which we are seeking to negotiate a county deal to provide significantly greater local control over transport spending and policy. Derbyshire has a huge opportunity as part of that. Of course, my hon. Friend’s constituency looks as much to Greater Manchester as it does to Derbyshire and the east midlands, and we must be conscious of that in the negotiations, but clearly there are opportunities to improve local transport and local roads through that exciting devolution deal process.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister. I just want to put on the record that I certainly welcome the levelling-up White Paper and some of the announcements in it, including the discussion of a county deal for Derbyshire. Also mentioned was the green light for enhanced bus services for Derbyshire, which is another big positive, and I know the Minister is playing a significant role in that. I want to put that on the record.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. There are two potential solutions in the White Paper to the problem that my hon. Friend raised. The first is the devolution deal process that we have just talked about. The second is the plan to improve power at the very local and neighbourhood level. It is obviously not for central Government to mandate whether Glossop or Buxton should have a town or parish council. Personally, I am a huge fan of parish councils and recognise the work that they do in my constituency and, indeed, across the country. It is ultimately a decision for local people, but it is none the less a decision that we might make easier for people to take.

Under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, local electors throughout England can petition their principal council—the district, in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak—for a community governance review to be undertaken. Principal councils have responsibility for undertaking community governance reviews and deciding whether to give effect to the recommendations made in them. In making that decision, principal councils are expected to take account of the views of local people. The final decision to create a new parish council rests with the local authority, although the decision can be subject to a judicial review if campaigners are not happy with it.

As my hon. Friend will have spotted, the levelling-up White Paper outlines how we will go further through our plans to remove barriers to community organisation and neighbourhood governance, supporting community leadership to take root and thrive. We will review the effectiveness of neighbourhood governance in England, including the role and functions of parish councils, with a view to making them much quicker and easier to establish. I hope that will be helpful to people in Glossop and Buxton. We will make it easier for local people and community groups to come together to set local priorities and shape the future of their neighbourhoods. That will include further exploration of the models of so-called pop-up parishes and community improvement districts that were recently recommended by the Kruger review, and further details of the plans to review neighbourhood governance will be set out in due course.

At the end of his speech, my hon. Friend raised an hugely important point about the role of developers in providing facilities for local residents. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham raised this point too, and the hon. Member for Strangford told us about an important and innovative way that communities are doing that for themselves in Northern Ireland. I could not agree more about the central role of providing essential neighbourhood infrastructure with all new developments. My hon. Friends will have noted the continuing turn towards a brownfield-led and urban regeneration-led model of development in the White Paper, which we have been pursuing particularly strongly under the current Secretary of State.

The Government are clear that local authorities are best placed ultimately to make decisions on local planning matters. The national planning policy framework requires local authorities to set clear policy requirements for infrastructure and affordable housing through plans. Those plans should be informed by appropriate and proportionate evidence, including on infrastructure needs and costs, which need to be taken into account. It is important that new housing always comes with the infrastructure needed to support it. In this House we all know that it is a bugbear for people when that does not happen, or when it has not happened appropriately.

Contributions from developers play an important role in delivering the infrastructure that new homes and local economies require. Local authorities can obtain contributions by charging a community infrastructure levy on new development, or through section 106 obligations. Those vehicles have some issues we might seek to improve on.

The levelling-up White Paper sets out the important role of the planning system in the Government’s wider mission to level up the country and regenerate left-behind places. Hon. Friends will have noted the ambition to produce a transformative King’s Cross-style regeneration in 20 different places around the country using the formidable experience, expertise and sweeping powers of Homes England to get central Government back into the business of providing powerful support for urban regeneration, a business they should never have got out of in the first place.

I very much welcome the Minister’s commitment to levelling up. I know he has put a huge amount of work into it. I also welcome the discussions that he has already started to have with Durham County Council on a county deal for our area. We have started to see Government offices moving out of London and into the regions, and I know Durham is keen to engage in that space. Will the Minister comment on any discussions he has had, and will he engage further on that possibility?

Mr Hollobone, you rightly point out that it would be wrong of me to stray too far from our key subject of grit bins. None the less, I am extremely enthusiastic to pick up on my hon. Friend’s point about the Places for Growth programme, with the Treasury move to Darlington, the Ministry of Justice move to Wrexham and my own Department’s moving of a significant number of people to Wolverhampton. Those are hugely important investments in regeneration.

Returning to the core issue of grit bins and public safety, at the end of his speech my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak made an important point about how all new-build developments should come with that type of infrastructure. We are thinking about how we take forward the idea of an infrastructure levy, which would be an improvement on the section 106 and community infrastructure levy processes, to ensure that we have more developer contributions and much more flexibility about how the money is spent so that we can really pick up on all the different types of neighbourhood and community needs that hon. Members have raised this morning.

To conclude, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak and all hon. Members who have contributed this morning. The underlying theme of our discussion is that for too long a lot of the decisions that impact on local communities in our constituencies have been taken from far too far away, whether they are decisions about transport that are made in Whitehall and could be made in each of our shires, or decisions about grit bins that could be provided at the neighbourhood level through empowered local communities. If we change the rules, we can create more opportunity for people at the parish and neighbourhood level to do things for themselves.

On the subject of grit bins, I am sure my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be interested in our debate today as he considers how winter maintenance might be improved further. I conclude simply by saying that although the issue of grit bins is a narrow one, and while various hon. Members have had the opportunity to highlight deficiencies in local provision, the issue strikes at a wider issue of power and decision making in this country. That is what our levelling-up agenda is all about: transferring control over important decisions from Whitehall to the local level through powerful devolution deals in places such as County Durham, Derby and Derbyshire, and also to the neighbourhood level through our changes to parish and neighbourhood legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.