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The Independent Online

London was blanketed under more snow than it has seen for 11 years yesterday and the weather got the better of one of the country's largest shopping centres.

London was blanketed under more snow than it has seen for 11 years yesterday and the weather got the better of one of the country's largest shopping centres.

Freezing conditions enveloped the country yesterday although forecasters predict the extreme weather will ease today and tomorrow.

Snow fell on London and eastern Britain with parts of Kent recording as much as 20cm. The capital saw up to 10cm, its largest recorded fall since February 1991.

Local authorities sprung into action to stop the weather causing too much disruption. Almost 200 tons of salt were spread on the roads and pavements throughout central London during the past three days, a spokesman for Westminster City Council said.

Steps leading to London Underground stations were treated with antifreeze and street sweepers were salting the pavements and clearing ice in lieu of their normal duties.

The Bluewater shopping centre in Kent – which can accommodate as many as 500,000 shoppers a day – was forced to close for the first times since it opened four years ago. A spokeswoman said: "It is because of heavy snowfalls and the fact we cannot guarantee the safety of people entering the site and the traffic problems that have been caused, that we were forced to close." Many Kent children enjoyed the day off because snow showers brought perilous driving conditions to the northern half of the county. Almost 100 schools had to be closed at some point during the day. The A2 dual carriageway was partly blocked and the M20 was reduced to one lane in places.

As they helped a large increase in distressed motorists, the RAC criticised a "huge discrepancy" in different local authority road-gritting policies and called on the Government to make it a legal duty to provide sufficient road-clearing.

Icy conditions paralysed much traffic – particularly people heading South-west – after an accident in Wiltshire.

Warnings of hazardous conditions were put in place on the M1 near Leicestershire and traffic on the A90 in Aberdeenshire was forced to crawling pace because of the ice.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the railways continued to suffer problems – severe snowfall leading to cancellations and delays on Arriva Trains Northern's services.

In southern England, signalling problems affected Thames Trains, First Great Western, Virgin Cross Country, South West Trains, Connex in Kent, South Central in London, and Central Trains.

For some, however, the freezing temperatures proved beneficial. Gas operator Transco said demand had exceeded previous records at 450 million cubic metres in just one day – enough to supply a town the size of Portsmouth for a year. Over the next few days Scotland will see the mildest weather and temperatures further south will level at minus 1C rather than the harsh minus 8C-15C that has been experienced in recent days.

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