Councils feel the backlash as travel misery lingers

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Britain endured more travel misery today as authorities were accused of failing to act "sooner and more thoroughly" to avert the chaos.

Road, rail and air travellers all faced delays as snow turned to ice and created treacherous conditions.



One hospital cancelled all but emergency operations as the AA said it experienced its busiest night for breakdowns in 25 years.



The Local Government Association (LGA) said claims authorities had failed to salt roads were "unverified, unsubstantiated and unjustified".



But AA president Edmund King said: "Councils should have acted sooner and more thoroughly.



"Some key roads have not been gritted at all. We've been inundated with calls from the public and our own patrols saying that yesterday, before the snow came down, there was little or no gritting.



"The Met Office had predicted when the snow was coming. Therefore, there was a window of opportunity for getting gritters out on these roads.



"As a country, there must be things we can do better - rather than just saying it's a once in a lifetime thing. It's not - it happened before, in February."



Transport Minister Sadiq Khan said he would be "asking questions" about the difficulties in Basingstoke, Hampshire, and Reading, Berkshire, where up to 2,000 motorists were trapped last night and many cars were abandoned.



Mr Khan said local authorities had enough grit and the issue was why the grit had not been applied.



It emerged that Donald Martin, 35, died in hospital after being found unconscious in the back garden of his home on the island of Lewis on Saturday. He is thought to have frozen to death on one of the coldest nights of the year.



The Met Office said temperatures were likely to remain around freezing for most of the UK, although they could reach about 5C (41F) in the south west of England and Wales.



A spokesman said snow was more likely in the north rather than southern parts of the UK.



And he added there was a "small possibility" of a white Christmas in the south, with a "greater possibility" in the north.



The Royal Berkshire Hospital, in Reading, cancelled all operations and appointments - treating emergencies only.



South Central Ambulance Service, based near Oxford, appealed for people not to dial 999 for non-emergencies.



After three days of no services, the first Eurostar pulled out of St Pancras station in London today.



But many domestic services were reporting delays of up to an hour, while many flights were also cancelled.



The AA said it dealt with 9,000 breakdowns between midnight and 2.30pm, while the RAC reported 4,700 between midnight and 12.30pm.



The M4 second Severn crossing was closed for three hours because of ice falling from overhead cables and gantries.



David Sparks, chairman of the LGA's transport and regeneration board, said gritters had been hampered by a "perfect storm" in some areas but stressed councils were doing "all they can".



"Accusations that councils were ill-prepared and have been withholding salt from where it is needed are unverified, unsubstantiated and unjustified," he said.



"Councils have access to enough salt to deal with the severe weather and will be doing all they can to make sure people are able to complete their journey and get home for Christmas."

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