Surrey police are looking for a bald middle aged man about 6 feet tall, who was caught on CCTV stealing grit from one of Surrey Councils £2,500 grit bins in Esher.

December 5, 2010

How do people with little wisdom end up in positions where they are supposed to help improve the quality of peoples lives??


Two years ago we had snow, having lived in Copenhagen for 12 years it was hard to believe how a few inches of snow could bring the country to a halt.

I asked why  no one  bothers to remove the snow from the foot path and was told, we never have snow in the UK and if we tried to remove it we might be sued.

In January 2010 it happened again while I was in Ireland, Gatwick was closed and I could not get home.  Ireland was every bit as incompetent as the UK. I wrote a letter to the Irish Independent as I waited for Gatwick to open. “Incompetence evident in weather crisis” and vowed to do something about it when I finally got back to the UK.

To me the problem is clear, local councils planning a response to something they have little experience of and councillors who know little about what they do in Scandinavia or Canada. Another group of professional jobsworths wasting everybody’s time and money.

In the UK few bother to clear pavements anymore perhaps a reflection of the cynicism many feel towards public servants and the idea of altruistic neighbours. The Daily Mail was advising people how to fall on the icy footpaths, which I blogged about last January?   Interestingly Section 63 of the Metropolitan Paving Act 1817 was legislation which was in force between 1817 and 1891. It required London householders to clear snow and ice from outside their doors.

When I raised the issue of snow management with our local Residents Association in Thames Ditton earlier in the year they were very supportive especially members who had lived abroad and asked me to write an article for their website.

My idea was to get people to act as a “snowman” They would have a proper metal snow shovel, that pushes the snow out of the way and a bin of grit for everyone on their street to use. Where elderly people are living the “snowman” would seek volunteers, to clear snow in front of those houses.I contacted Surrey  Council  asking them if there were risks for people who clear snow from in front of their house. Their response was encouraging.

We have been informed by our legal department that if members of the public decide to clear ice and snow from outside their home or shop, there is no reason why they should be liable to anyone who subsequently falls on the surface they have cleared, unless they have created an obstruction or anything else that could predictably cause an injury.

For example, if hot water is used in clearing the ice and snow, it is foreseeable that this could create more ice. Or if a mound of snow is left on the path or road, this could cause an obstruction.
Straightforward clearance is perfectly in order. As with any other action, members of the public should act sensibly and consider the effect their actions might have on other people. As long as snow is cleared responsibly and without causing further risk for passers-by, there would be no liability.

We hope this answers your enquiry, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
Yours sincerely
Surrey Contact Centre/SH
Email: or
Telephone: 03456 009 009

I then contacted all the residents on our street to participate in clearing snow from outside their own houses on our street and applied to Surrey Council a for a supply of grit that all the neighbours could use in the event of snow to put on the cleared pavement to prevent icy residue developing. Their response was encouraging

Could you please let us know your location details.  If there isn’t a grit bin in your locality we can apply to Highways for one to be placed on-site;  If there is a grit bin locally and it is empty, we can pass the information to our Highways to make sure that the bin is on the list to be filled.
Yours sincerely
Surrey Contact Centre/CG

Surrey council sent us a list of all their grit bins which was out of date and I suggested making a map with locations on their website which they have subsequently done with advice on what to do in case of emergency.

Having chased them up three times I eventually got a response in June. Now I can understand them thinking what kind of nut is looking for grit to put on his footpath in the middle of summer. But having sat of a regulatory body (the General Chiropractic Council) it taught me one thing, professional committee people like being on committees and talking much more than doing practical work. I know these type of people and how they operate better than they know themselves. Anyway in true committee fashion, Surrey Council gave me a response that got me off their back for a few months.

Dear Mr Lanigan,
Thank you for your active interest in clearing snow falls from the footways in Lime Tree Avenue. We do appreciate the time and effort you have taken to involve your neighbours and take action to make the footways safer if we were to have further snow falls this coming winter.

The County policy regarding requests by residents for new salt bins is under review. I will however forward your suggestion for a bin to be placed at the junction of Hampton Court Way and Lime Tree Avenue to our Asset Planning Group Manager for his consideration. We start our Winter Maintenance programme in October. In October existing salt bins are filled, damaged bins are replaced and new bins if any are authorised, are installed.

I’m sorry, but at this point in time I am not able to indicate what the County’s policy will be regarding new salt bin locations.
You raise an interesting point about providing some neighbourhoods with extra salt during snow events such as we experienced last year. Again, this is one of the things, which is under consideration for the approaching winter period.
I will hopefully have more information by late September if you wish to contact us again.
Carol Walker
(Maintenance Engineer)

Nevertheless October would give us plenty of time before the snow arrived, and the Thames Ditton Residents association have been very active promoting the campaign. October arrived, I e-mailed Surrey Council, no response. I e-mailed twice in November no response.

I went to the Surrey Councils website and was delighted to find that they had put all my suggestions on their website. My joy was soon diminished on finding out that the council was going to try and take advantage of the public’s willingness to clear snow off the footpaths for them. Surrey Council announced a plan to charge residents £2,500 for a grit bin which they would fill once a year for ten years. On the 23 of November I emailed Surrey council.

From: Richard Lanigan
Sent: 23 November 2010 15:27
To: ‘SCC SystemAgent’
Subject: RE: Highways Enquiry Update – Enquiry 83071911

Dear Carol,

I have not heard from Surrey Council as promised and have not been getting  responses from my e-mails to Highways

I welcome that Surrey Council have now put information on their website informing residents on what action to take in the event of adverse weather conditions and snow on  footpaths. . However I would point out there is not much point in clearing the snow as the residue will turn to Ice if it is not gritted immediately. I note Surrey Council is now  asking residents for £2,500 for a gritting bin that will be filled each year for ten years

I realise Surrey have had to loose £200,000,000 from their budget, nevertheless, I can only describe this as extortion and Surrey Council using adverse weather conditions to generate revenue from ratepayers. As I had not heard from you with winter approaching, I went ahead and purchased a 200 Litre bin at £90. (A 400L grit bin like the ones councils use can be purchased for £120). To fill the 200L bin with rock salt is £50. So before I go through Freedom of Information to know why or how you propose  to justify £2,500 for a gritting bin of rock salt,  could you try and explain it to me.

As soon as the first snow falls I can assure Surrey Council, the residents of Lime Tree avenue will be inviting the newspapers to show them our clear footpath and explain why all the other footpaths in Surrey are covered in snow because of your refusal to make free grit available to residents wishing to clear the  footpaths which Surrey Council is ultimately responsible for.

Yours sincerely

Richard Lanigan

I have not heard from Surrey and will have to resort to my good fried FOI I suspect they have made some deal with a subcontractor to supply grit for Surrey which they can not get out of. Compare this to Sutton Councils offer of free grit to its residents Last weekend I was in Copenhagen two feet of snow which was unexpected so early in winter yet it caused no disruptions. Tuesday night a small portion of this snow arrived in the UK and Ireland,  a few inches of snow is described as “Artic conditions” and closed Gatwick Airport for two days solid. I was in Dublin had to come back by Boat and train we were the only house on the entire Clontarf road to clear our footpath dublin. They did not even grit the main road which was pure ice.

When I got back to Thames Ditton the Kids had cleared the footpath. We had a grit bin but the grit I ordered for our road had not arrived, so having removed the snow, the residue had frozen over and could be just as dangerous to members of the public, especially the elderly.

Fortunately some middle aged bald guy was caught on CCTV (see above) stealing grit from one of Surreys grit bins in Esher. The valuable grit was recovered later on the paths of Lime Tree Avenue in Thames Ditton. lime another victory for common sense over the jobsworths who make decisions every day that bring misery to peoples lives.

I hope everybody who reads this blog will support my campaign to keep footpaths clear of snow on Facebook and get there friends to do the same. Peter Haynes of the Thames Ditton Residents Association produced a leaflet you can download and put in your neighbours letter box before the snow comes again. Driving around Thames Ditton on Friday it was pleasing to see that many residents had made the effort to clear snow from their footpath while Nero in Surrey Council played his fiddle.


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  • Richard Lanigan

    Looks better on me, its mine now and get home and clean your room.

  • fred

    is that my jacket ur wearing in that top picture!!!


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