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Published: 5 February 2009

Monday morning in Camden Town
No buses, no school, no parks:
How Camden came to a standstill

The council is happy with its response to the snow that caused chaos – but many think they should have shown more grit...

TWO days of heavy snowfall descended into farce in Camden as parks topped with picturesque snow stayed locked, ­buses were kept off the roads, schools dithered over whether they would open or not and nearly two-thirds of the council’s staff failed even to make it to their desks.
The massive disruption left some residents
wondering how councils and transport services coped during past emergencies, with one councillor claiming there was better performance when London was being bombed during the blitz.
Despite a catalogue of complaints, both the Town Hall and Transport for London (TfL), which reacted to the snow by taking every bus out of service, claimed they did a good job.
Liberal Democrat council chief Councillor Keith Moffitt led the praise: “We prioritised vulnerable people’s safety. There were lots of officers who worked through the night.
“It’s very unfair to all of them to say nobody was gritting the streets. We are pretty pleased with the performance.”
There was a queue of people who don’t agree.
While schools made their own minds up over whether they should open, the council padlocked its parks, including Waterlow Park and Kilburn Grange.
So none of the photographs taken this week of children making the most of an unexpected day off with a bit of fun were taken in the borough’s parks – everybody headed to Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill instead (see pages 16 and 17).
The council said it did not have enough staff to open the parks, although those locked out said they had been told it was all down to – you guessed it – “health and safety”.
Paul Anderson, secretary of Friends of Waterlow Park, said: “Park lovers felt insulted that they were unable to make the choice for their own personal safety.”
In Kilburn, Ags Irwin said 30 parents and their children were barred from Kilburn Grange Park, a snowy playground out of bounds. “As television screens flashed pictures of children playing in the snow, we stood bitterly disappointed outside the gates,” said Ms Irwin. “Some of the children, clutching sledges and trays, were in tears when they realised they could not get in. The results of the health and safety were children building snowmen on the streets.”
Cllr Moffitt said last night (Wednesday): “I’d rather you were criticising me because some children couldn’t build a snowman than because a child had died on a frozen pond.”
The Town Hall’s press office said it had concentrated on “essential ser­vices”. Like gritting the roads? According to TfL, no London local author­ity gritted enough around bus depots to allow buses to even get out. And as a result, every bus was ­taken out of service without any exceptions.
The New Journal visited the Pemberton Gardens bus depot in Archway, where Metroline are based and many services running through Camden operate from. Although managers would not allow staff to speak to reporters on Tuesday, outside the gates ­drivers suggested they could have got moving.
“We just checked in and waited,” said one. “We could have got out.”
The official line from TfL is: “A large number of bus operators and garages were unable to operate a service. The majority of London’s bus services operate on local authority-maintained roads, which were particularly affected by the heavy snowfall.”
Either way, Somers Town councillor Roger Robinson was among those unimpressed by the move. He said: “For God’s sake, in the Second World War we seem to have managed. We had buses running while bombs were falling.”
But hang on a minute, said the council in response, don’t blame us. “The council gritted all principal routes, including bus routes, twice between Sunday afternoon and Monday,” a spokeswoman said, before add­ing pointedly: “Particular attention was paid to keeping difficult areas of bus routes clear.”
This doesn’t always include the pavements, however. Labour councillor Jonathan Simpson said residents stayed in their homes – “trapped”, to use his words – rather than risk the ice-covered walkways.
The Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead confirmed a sudden rise in patients turning up with injuries from slips and falls – broken bones and dislocated shoulders were the main complaints.
Inside the snow-capped Town Hall, council chiefs were chuffed by the turnout of staff. Two out of three workers weren’t seen on Monday but spin that around: a third did get in.
“Yesterday’s weather was the worst London has seen in 18 years and the council understands that a large number of staff were unable to make it to work due to the widespread transport disruption,” a spokeswoman said.
And staff apparently weren’t out bombing down Parliament Hill on sledges – press officials reckon 1,500 of them logged on from home.
Camden police fared better with an 80 per cent turnout in Monday. Just one sergeant and one PCSO were unable to report for duty on its front-line response teams.
But Cllr Moffitt has urged councillors to stop the moans. In one email to a colleague he said: “Many, many of our officers have gone the extra mile to make sure residents have essential services and I hope you recognise and would wish to join us in expressing our gratitude.”
Rightly or wrongly, those caught in the blizzard of cancelled ser­vices might not be rushing to accept his invitation.

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