AN APPARENT bid by Swindon Borough Council to get parishes to pay for salting on icy footpaths has been dismissed by councillors as a sly attempt to “pick the parishes’ pockets”.

They say gritting pathways and public spaces in front of supermarkets and other shopping areas is the responsibility of the borough as the highways authority.

But the borough council said it lacked the resources to salt every footpath and that parish councillors had misinterpreted email from the highways authority listing prices for salt spreading kit.

Zoe Moore, a manager in the borough’s highway maintenance team, wrote in that email: “We don’t treat the footpaths or any shopping centres.

"If the parish would like to carry out those treatments we are able to support with the supply of salt and a push along salt spreader.

"The prices for these range from around £180 to over £1,000. Salt cost around £50 a tonne," she added.

It prompted criticism from parish councillors.

Patrick Herring, vice-chairman of South Swindon Parish Council’s planning committee, said the parish had not been asked to spread salt in previous years: “This is a new development that does feel rather like picking our pockets.”

Coun Mary Gladman, who uses a walking stick, added: “As somebody who has trouble standing upright even when there’s not any snow, how can they not grit shopping centres?”

There were calls for a meeting with cash-strapped Swindon Borough Council to bottom out exactly what services they could no longer afford to provide.

Coun Chris Watts, chairman of the parish council, blasted: “It’s pretty desperate when the borough council is having to penny pinch to this extent.

“There needs to be a proper discussion and not just the odd email dropped into us.”

Conservative councillors John Short and Nick Burns-Howell broke party ranks to call for a rethink by the borough council.

Coun Short said of gritting pavements: “This is the responsibility of the highways authority. It’s up to the highways authority to do it.”

Coun Burns-Howell said there was little the parish could do in November to pay for extra salting rounds, given they had already fixed their budget: “It’s the wrong time of year and the wrong form for bringing suggestions like this to the parish.”

A borough council spokesman said: “The parish appear to have misinterpreted our email. We have not asked parish councils to pay for salting icy pathways, we merely suggested it as an option they could take up.

“We do not treat any footways except when we have experienced snow, and that has been the case for some time now. We simply do not have the resources to salt footpaths and outside every shopping centre especially when we are trying to save £30m in order to balance the council’s budget.”