SHETLAND Islands Council has insisted cutbacks to its winter gritting service did not lead to a spate of accidents on treacherous ice in the isles on Friday morning.
Reports of cars, lorries and buses leaving the road and multi vehicle collisions began pouring in after 6am, though only one driver suffered minor injuries, according to the police.
A school bus carrying children from Skeld on Shetland’s west side to Aith junior high school came off the road at Reawick.
A taxi taking children to school at Cunningsburgh came off an ungritted road at Greenmow and hit a strainer post causing damage estimated at £2,000. Another taxi refused to go up the road because it was “pure ice”.
A council gritter had to be towed out of a ditch near Aith, while a dustbin lorry had the same experience in Skellister, South Nesting. Both incidents blocked roads and caused tailbacks.
Two miles north of Voe a truck and a bus and three cars were involved in a crash at Dales Lees that blocked the road.
In central Voe cars found themselves stuck behind a delivery truck and bus that slid two hundred yards on thick ice, and were then unable to drive off because of the conditions.
A car was badly damaged after leaving the road at Voxter, north of Brae, while a two vehicle collision on Lerwick’s King Harald Street left a man with minor injuries.
The last incident occurred at Bixter at 10.25am when a car left the road. No one was hurt.
SIC infrastructure director Phil Crossland said the council’s recent cutbacks to the gritting service could not be blamed for the terrible road conditions.
He said gritting teams were out for three hours until 6pm on Thursday due to the poor forecast, but overnight rain had washed off the salt and standing water froze quickly to produce black ice.
“Gritters were out again this morning at 6am, however, even on our most heavily-used routes, the salt took some time to work,” he said.
“There have also been showers across the north of Shetland this morning, with rain freezing on contact with cold roads, which has compounded the problems being experienced.
“No roads authority can treat for all climatic conditions, and conditions such as were experienced this morning happen regularly in other areas, but are relatively rare in Shetland.
“The problems are not associated with the recent decision following the winter maintenance review.
“It also needs to be borne in mind that we are still treating a larger proportion of our roads then the Scottish average.”
A roads department spokesman said that only small side roads were no longer being gritted as a result of the budget cuts.
Yet Mark Anderson, who runs Allied Taxis, said that the road at Greenmow, Cunningsburgh, where his taxi spun on ice and hit a strainer post had not been gritted. “It’s the first time that rioad has been pure ice, and it’s because it wasn’t gritted.”
However Tagon Stores owner Scott Preston at Voe said conditions were far worse than black ice, as he nursed a sprained arm from falling as he walked to work at 6.30am after abandoning his car.
“It seems evident to everybody locally that the ice was particularly thick this morning. It was more like an ice rink. At one point I was on my hands and knees crawling because it was such thick ice.”
Conditions had been so bad on Thursday night that a BT van left the road in the north mainland and the recovery vehicle had to be abandoned at Voe because it was not safe to travel, he said.
Meanwhile police are warning drivers to continue to be careful with freezing conditions forecast over the weekend, leaving plenty of time for their journeys and ensuring their vehicles are in good roadworthy condition.
Inspector Eddie Graham said: “Drivers should be very careful especially in the early hours of the morning, and be aware that some of the roads may not have been gritted.”
A map of the roads which are gritted can be found here.