MPs call for 'Snow Supremo'

Friday 13th May 2011 by theWeather Club

The cross-party Transport Select Committee has suggested the UK should appoint a "snow supremo" to oversee the country's preparedness for large snowfalls, with the readiness of UK airports needing particular attention. The recommendation comes after the committee examined the response to the severe weather of December 2010, which shut Heathrow, Gatwick and major train lines and left roads impassable.

In its report the committee said it wanted airports to be forced to plan more effectively so people had at least basic supplies. It said a culture change was needed in the rail industry to ensure the welfare of passengers was taken seriously, saying the failure to provide information about rail services should cost those firms responsible money. The MPs also called for a further £10m in funding to enable the Met Office to provide better long-term forecasting.

The committee suggested that Transport Secretary Philip Hammond should appoint a senior department official to oversee snow plans at Heathrow and other airports. Among the report's suggestions were that major airports and stations should have accommodation and food in place for when people are stranded; better transport communication networks need to be set up; and staff at individual stations and airports need to be empowered to make decisions.

Mr Hammond said he agreed with the committee that some disruption during extreme weather was inevitable. “We have already started work to improve our preparedness for the coming winter,” he said. He said that the government had set up a committee to consider scientific and economic advice on severe weather preparations. His department was also planning a revamp of the regulatory framework for airports, and was looking at ways to keep motorists informed of any problems on their network.

The UK Met Office also came in for criticism, with the committee saying current seasonal predictions "do not provide a firm basis on which decision-makers can act with confidence". It pointed out that Mr Hammond had put the £10m price tag on the additional computing power needed by the Met Office to provide more accurate 10-year predictions. The committee's chairman, Louise Ellman MP, said: "Given the huge cost of winter weather disruption to the economy - some £280m per day in transport disruption alone - the £10m suggested by Mr Hammond would be a small price to pay to improve the Met Office's long-range forecasting capability.” The report also pointed out that the winter was the third in a row with severe weather, and that better weather forecasting could help the country to be more prepared.

The committee's other recommendations include: Airport operators should be allowed to reclaim the cost of looking after stranded passengers from airlines that have failed to do so. Better online advice on how individuals and communities can tackle problems arising from severe winter weather. A high profile campaign to encourage more motorists to take precautions for driving in winter weather. However it is the air industry that came in for the harshest critisims. Mrs Ellman said: “Every airport operator must now be pushed to plan properly for bad weather, so that people are not left stranded and without even basic supplies in airport terminals for days on end.”