Where are our gritters?
FURIOUS members of a Sutherland community have branded a lack of road gritting by Highland Council as "unforgivable" and claim it is paralysing the area.
Assynt school pupils, care workers, emergency services and the general public have been literally left out in the cold, according to its fed-up community council.
And council secretary Phil Jones has described the area's winter road maintenance as "unfit for purpose", adding it has put people's safety at risk.
The community's patience finally snapped when both local school buses were recently cancelled because the roads were too icy.
Mr Jones said: "The cancellations meant that pupils hoping to sit their maths preliminary exam at Ullapool High School were unable to take part in this very important assessment.
"This is unacceptable, given that freezing temperatures were forecast and there are sufficient stockpiles of grit.
"The council's current winter maintenance programme clearly remains unfit for purpose and makes a mockery of their mission statement to improve road safety and reduce road traffic accidents.
"Last winter more than 1000 complaints from several private individuals were made to Highland Council regarding its inability to keep our roads clear of snow and ice.
"These were largely ignored despite a concerted campaign by Assynt Community Council to bring this matter to the attention of those responsible for the situation. When community services area manager for the Highlands, Tracey Urry, attended a meeting in Lochinver to listen to our concerns, it was clear none of the complaints had been flagged to her department by those individuals responsible for road maintenance.
"A detailed dossier was sent to Highland Council, complete with first-hand commentary posted on social media as well as anecdotal and photographic evidence proving the roads in Assynt were not being treated the same as the roads in Wester Ross."
Mr Jones said following the meeting with Ms Urry, she arranged for an extra gritting lorry to service the road between Lochinver village and the primary school so children could get to lessons safely and the salt dump was relocated close to Lochinver Harbour.
But he added: "There's a standing joke that Assynt snow is different to Ullapool's because the Ullapool drivers are somehow able to keep most of their roads clear of snow and spread grit at the same time."
A Highland Council spokesman said: "The council has listened to the concerns of Assynt Community Council and has introduced some revised operational arrangements. However during winter, especially during severe weather, it may not be possible to keep every road free from ice and snow at all times, and the time taken to complete the treatment of routes will vary day-to-day, depending on actual weather conditions."