Lancashire County Council has denied using data protection laws to avoid revealing which roads have been gritted during the winter.
The accusation was made at a meeting of the authority’s Internal Scrutiny Committee, which heard complaints from several members that a request for information about gritter lorry movements is set to be refused.
Liberal Democrat, David Whipp, said: “I can see [data protection] becoming a cop-out for everything. I have a great deal of difficulty accepting that privacy regulations would prevent us from actually knowing where the gritters are.”
The committee had previously asked for councillors to be able to track gritting wagons - using the technology which the vehicles have on-board - and then tell their residents whether roads have been treated.
But the authority’s Highways Manager, Ridwan Musa, said the tracking devices were governed by the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). “[The information] is only available for essential users and purposes,” he told members.
The news drew criticism from opposition members of the cross-party committee, with one branding it “odd”.
Member for Highways on the Conservative-run authority, Keith Iddon, said: “I’m not going to break the law - if there is some way around it, then we will look at it - but from where I’m sitting, it’s very clear that, legally, we cannot do this.”
The committee demanded that it be shown the legal advice in full and some members requested that the council's Twitter feed offer more detail on routes which have been treated. County Cllr Erica Lewis told highways bosses: “It’s just not very useful to our residents to say ‘gritting is happening in the north of the county’.”
There was also controversy over the council’s plan to keep the county on the move during the winter ahead.
A proposal is due to be considered by cabinet next month which recommends reducing the temperature at which gritters are sent onto the streets from one degree celsius to 0.5 degrees.
Members were told the change would save around £100,000 which would be reinvested into gritting more secondary routes, which are not currently given priority.
Labour’s John Fillis, formerly the Member for Highways under the previous administration, said that was a “red herring”. “If you haven’t got your vehicles out, you’re not going to get your secondary routes done anyway,” he said.
Ridwan Musa later explained that officers monitor winter weather forecasts to see if temperatures will drop to the required level - with gritters being sent out well in advance.
“It might be forecast to hit 0.5 degrees at 1am, but we would be out on the network at 6pm,” he said. “We need to have the grit on the road before the hazard actually happens.”
County Cllr Iddon defended a policy which he described as an expansion of the gritting service, but told members that safety would not be compromised. “If it does [affect safety] at all, it will not be done,” he said.
Meanwhile, councillors themselves were reminded that they had been asked to carry out a survey of grit bins in the county. So far, just 16 out of 83 members have responded.
“It’s no good complaining in November that you haven’t got a grit bin if you’re not doing the job now, “ committee chair David O’ Toole said.
Grit bins are designed to service more minor routes which are not routinely treated by council vehicles. There are more than 1,600 bins located across the county, three quarters of them in the hillier east.
Committee member Steve Holgate complained that the council had designed “a mechanism for saying no” to members who applied for a new grit bin.
But County Cllr Iddon also warned against misuse of the yellow boxes. “I haven’t got an issue with [people helping themselves] if they’re putting it on the road, but when the local restaurant owner comes and takes away the grit in his boot, that’s not satisfactory,” he said.