A COMMUNITY is in uproar after a local farmer's gritting contract was taken away during the most prolonged cold snap in several years.

Thomas Kirkbride has provided a vital service to a large swathe of the Broughton, Duddon, Coniston and other areas for around 23 years, gritting, ploughing, and replenishing salt bins on its more rural roads during winter.

He has recently been told by Cumbria County Council Highways that his contract, that he was invited to tender for, has not been renewed.

His replacement will not be able to start until January, due to mandatory Highways training.

Conservative Cumbria County Councillor for High Furness, Matt Brereton, mirrored the depth of local feeling.

He said: "There's a lot of local discontent, firstly because they've lost a longstanding local farmer who's done a brilliant job over a number of years, gritting, replenishing grit bins, and keeping the roads clear - he knows all the routes and the danger spots.

"He had to put his prices up slightly due to rising costs obviously, and I understand the difference in bids was not significant.

"It couldn't have come at a worse time. 

"I understand that Highways is trying to get Mr Kirkbride to do the work on an interim basis, but understandably, he feels that he has the contract, or he doesn't, so he's stuck to his guns and has refused to come out.

"Council officers I've spoken to have insisted that the roads will be gritted, but the evidence shows that this is to the contrary

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"The council teams that are doing the work in the interim are also covering the main roads, which are obviously a higher priority.

"There's sympathy for Mr Kirkbride at County level, but it shows the procurement system isn't fit for purpose if the preferred contractor isn't getting the contract.

"It also seems particularly ridiculous to be changing contractors for this type of service at this time of year. 

"It has been unseasonably cold, possibly the most prolonged bout of freezing weather since the Beast From The East.

"But it is December - there's nothing to stop this process being sorted in the warmer months.

"Cumbrians have shown themselves over the years to be a hardy bunch, but don't like being taken for granted."