Getting ready for winter

Snow cleared using rock salt

Winter is going to be a special time for Libertarian Home. At the recent Strategy Workshop we – myself, my fellow activists and readers of this blog – prioritised the idea of getting out there into the community and doing stuff to make the community a better place. Specifically, we decided to clear snow.

Snow has been a terrible blight and a shame in this country for too long. I’m not saying that snow is falling on our heads because we are guilty sinners, but the fact that it stays under our feet and inconveniences us is a sign that the spirit of self-reliance is sadly declining. That spirit is a profoundly libertarian thing, our politics, our philosophy and our little sub-culture of sensibleness all say the same thing: the snow in our way is our problem to fix, get out of my way and let me fix it.

The legal situation

The Occupiers Liability Act requires the owners of private land to keep clear any paths that they reasonably expect people to use. Apparently this doesn’t mean the local Council is mandated to clear paths. In practice (if not in law) pavements are treated as if no one owns them and they usually go uncleared.

So what is the situation for people who want to clear their own stretch of pavement. The BBC reports that:

There are …  strict regulations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Most German towns have a “street cleaning statute”. Snow-shovelling requirements are spelled out in detail, even down to the minimum width of the cleared area and the time during which you must keep the snow cleared.

It’s not the case in the UK. In fact, you are taking a theoretical legal risk if you clear the pavement in front of your home.

It’s the local authority’s responsibility to clear snow and ice from the public highway. By sweeping snow from one part of the pavement to another, if done in a manner that caused injury to someone, there is a chance legal action could be taken against you on the basis you had created a nuisance under tort law.

But, Paul Kitson, a partner with leading personal injury solicitors Russell Jones & Walker, explains that a claimant would have to show you had acted either maliciously or carelessly, and that such a case would often be tricky in practice.

So let’s get out there and give it our best shot. I’m nervous about this situation. I’m nervous just giving this advice, and I’m sure you will be acting on it, but if the risk is small and the reward great then a rational actor should act accordingly.

Melting the ice

It will be readily apparent to most of that we should avoid creating dangerous ice, so we should not use water.

DirectGov, a source safe enough for me to avoid being sued for quoting, agrees and adds:

You can melt snow or prevent black ice by spreading some salt on the area you have cleared. You can use ordinary table or dishwasher salt – a tablespoon for each square metre you clear should work. Don’t use the salt found in salting bins – this will be needed to keep the roads clear.

Be careful not to spread salt on plants or grass as it may damage them.

If you don’t have enough salt, you can also use sand or ash. These won’t stop the path icing over as effectively as salt, but will provide good grip underfoot.

Ordering grit for stockpiling

The easiest way to get grit is to drive to your nearest home or office superstore, or order a great big bag of it online. If you do order online I’ll make around 5% commission, for which I’ll be most grateful this winter, the price you pay does not change because of that:

Source Type Description Amount in kg Price Delivery Price / kh
Amazon Online Rock Salt Ice Melting Grit 22 £10.99 £0.00 £0.54 Go
Amazon Online Ice Breaker Rock Salt Large Bag 21.5 £6.99 £4.95 £0.56 Go
Tesco Direct Online Winter Wizard Salt Bag 20kg 20 £12.00 £5.00 £0.85 Go
Amazon Online White Rock Salt 10kg x 2 20 £10.00 £7.99 £0.90 Go
Homebase In store Rock Salt De Icer Maxi Pack Not specified £8.49 n/a Not specified Go
[Prices checked 7th Dec, and can change. Feel free to notify me of any variations that concern you]

Shovelling it away

As a chronically lazy person, I didn’t get to shovelling last time around. You can see my little effort of clearing with salt in the top right and it should be obvious that a good broad shovel would have helped. If you are up for this you can get a shovel like Pavel’s from Amazon and you’re set.

DirectGov, the lawyer friendly source for legally risky advice, has this to say:

It’s easier to move fresh, loose snow rather than hard snow that has packed together from people walking on it. So if possible, start removing the snow and ice in the morning. If you remove the top layer of snow in the morning, any sunshine during the day will help melt any ice beneath. You can then cover the path with salt before nightfall to stop it refreezing overnight.

Economies

I’m not planning, and am not suggesting, we should all clear the entire road of snow – where would we put it? We have to be sensible and set parameters for what we want to achieve, and that should be focused on making our specific street a better place, not false targets.

I think it’s sensible to clear just the pavement on one side of the road. People  should see your work as an opportunity and can always cross the road to find safety.

I’m also going to go out on a legal limb and suggest that you need not clear the whole path, but only enough of the pavement so that a normally sighted person will be able to see a path that is fully cleared and follow that path easily and confidently, so it should be a few feet wide.

If the path slopes at all, favour clearing the high ground so that melt water doesn’t flow over the cleared portion.

Clear the selected area consistently, so that it’s easy to follow even in poor light (unlike the example above!). Don’t create surprises.

Getting the credit

Gritting pavements is, of course, a really great option for those who are feeling peculiarly altruistic, but the idea is also entirely self-interested. Not only do we get a clear pavement to walk on but we get to make a point: that a culture of responsibility in adversity is better than culture of reliance upon the council to come and help you. It is better morally and for self esteem, because your safety and happiness is worth the effort. It’s better practically because the state of the pavements and the extent of demand for snow clearance is only known locally and can be acted upon fastest if done locally – by residents in the same street.

This is the self-interested goal of this initiative, the axe we want to grind, and we won’t achieve it unless we take pride in our work and show it off to all and sundry – and especially to the media:

  1. Be prepared in plenty of time. Snow arrives at random so if your aren’t prepared you won’t be able to take part.
  2. Identify your local media contacts – do it now so that you can quickly send them something on the day.
  3. Remember you may have other commitments when it starts snowing, so plan accordingly.
  4. Show off on Twitter using hashtag #LHSnow
  5. Post pictures on Facebook and tell people what you think – grind that axe.
  6. Contact your MP – it’s ridiculous that anyone acting for the good could be held accountable for unlucky accidents. We need objective laws in this area.
  7. Send pictures to me, so that we can show the scale and extent of the good we’ve created.
  8. Mention libertarianhome.co.uk, a hundred separate efforts will make less of a splash.
  9. Register for this site, so that you get the newsletter. I’ll be continuing to work on ways to promote this activity and make it work better.
  10. Swap tips. Use the comments feature below to exchange practical tips.

Most important, have fun and take care.

Simon Gibbs

Simon is a London based IT contractor and the proprietor of Libertarian Home. Working with logic and cause-and-effect each day he was naturally attracted to nerdy libertarianism and later to harshly logical Objectivism. Find him on Google+ 

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  5 comments for “Getting ready for winter

  1. Devika
    Dec 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    After clearing the snow, can I suggest that we also inform the residents of our street about this via a leaflet / letter through their doors, to make them aware about our reasons for doing this, what this means for all of us in the long term and how they could get involved in the future if they wished to do so.

    • Dec 8, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      I think we could make that work.

      • Dec 11, 2011 at 6:00 am

        I did likewise last winter, a snow shovel really carves through the snow and a few 20kg bags of salt took care of the raod through January. I live at the end of a cul-de-sac with a few elderly ladies in the surrounding houses, so getting them out was a non-starter, but it wasn’t exactly fighting tigers to do their bit.

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