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Rural communities ‘treated like second class citizens’ over gritting of school routes

Parents and schools demand action as first winter snows force closures

School bus gritter frost

Fresh calls have been made for minor roads to schools to be gritted after many were forced to close on Friday because of heavy snowfall.

Schools in some rural areas were inaccessible due to the dangerous conditions on roads.

And with the possibility of more snow on Sunday – and must of what came on Friday still lying – some schools could yet again close.

Currently only school routes which in excess of 1,500 vehicle movements a day are salted.

But this is something must change, according to Newry and Armagh SDLP MLA Justin McNulty.

Read more: School bus crashes into field four days after councillor’s warning

He said he had been inundated with calls from parents after Friday’s snow, which had been well forecast in advance.

Mr McNulty said parents of children at many local primary schools were “at their wits end” as they face another winter of disruption caused by frosty mornings and unsalted roads.

He said: “I have been contacted by parents who believe they are taking their lives in their hands as they venture out on to rural roads to take their children to school.

“Many main routes are gritted, but there are also many which are not. This is not acceptable.

“Friday was the first fall of snow this winter and already it has caused havoc. Schools have closed, buses haven’t turned up, however, no one is taking responsibility.

“The concerning issue is the fact that some school bus routes are gritted whilst others are not. At present it is only roads that have 1,500 vehicle movements a day that are gritted. This is an unrealistic threshold to reach for many rural roads.

“We have a large number of rural schools in this community and many are unreachable for parents on mornings where there has been frost or snow. Better still, many bus drivers are refusing to even attempt to navigate some of the perilous roads because of the lack of salting or gritting, and understandably so.

“I have been contacted by parents and staff at schools right across this area seeking action.

“Some areas were included on a ‘Secondary Gritting List’ provided by the then Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy and, whilst I understand this was an attempt to resolve some of the worst areas, it amounts to nothing more than second class treatment for rural communities.

“It’s too inconsistent, it means a road can be treated one morning and not the next, and some areas get salted whist others do not. It is inexcusable and local communities are demanding action. Chis Hazzard as Infrastructure Minister refused to intervene and I’m now calling on Peter May the Permanent Secretary to review this policy.

“I want to see the 1,500 vehicle movement test abolished and replaced with a guarantee that all school bus routes are salted.

“No policy should treat rural communities and rural schools as second class citizens, and furthermore this cannot be looked at in pure monetary terms.

“What monetary value does the Department put on the life of a child. I really fear that we will not see action until a child loses their life, and then it will be too late.”

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