Helping hand

Date: Tuesday 1st May 2018

FROM Scarrowmanwick to Stainmore, the snow brought by the Beast from the East, whipped up by ferocious winds, cut off communities and made travel barely possible in others.

That parts of East Cumbria were not even more isolated for longer was largely due to the efforts of the farming community in clearing roads and rescuing stranded motorists.

The effects of the storm were so severe that council staff, despite their unflagging efforts, could not have coped on their own. In a united effort that showed how Cumbria comes together in times of difficulty, the county coped with the worst that the weather threw at it.

But that community effort has prompted concern as to who would be to blame if there was an accident on a road cleared by volunteers. According to advice issued by a county council highways officer, “farmers clearing snow could be held responsible for any accidents if working without permission and the required insurance”.

It would be disastrous for rural areas in times of freak weather if farmers and other members of the community with suitable vehicles decided to leave them in the barn or garage because of fears they could be sued if anything went wrong.

The county council is suggesting that farmers sign up to its “snow champions” programme so their activities can be managed by the authority and be covered legally. But would they in large numbers be willing to be bound by even more red tape?

Safety is, of course, paramount but it is a sign of the times that a supreme community effort has become enmeshed in a debate about health and safety.

The onus is on the council to come up with an acceptable solution as it is increasingly likely to need the help of volunteers in severe weather conditions.