SHELTERS have been set up, hotels are full and Eden shopping centre is helping out stranded shoppers as the cold snap takes its toll on High Wycombe.

The police and Buckinghamshire County Council have tonight released a joint statement asking people to stay in their homes and urging motorists to stay in their vehicles or find alternative accommodation.

The authorities have set up four emergency shelters to house stranded residents.

These are the Wycombe Sports Centre, the Salvation Army in Frogmoor, Baptist Church in Easton Street, while Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have opened up their car parks.

Amersham Hill in the town centre has been closed to traffic, with officers directing motorists towards Beaconsfield.

Furious drivers have blasted county council chiefs over gritting. A road boss said earlier today that main roads were gritted but this was less effective as temperatures plummet. Minor roads were gritted where possible they said (see later).

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Supt George Wrigley said: “We advise people not to embark on a journey at this time unless it is absolutely necessary.

"If you are already on the road you should not abandon your car, but try to get to a safe place.

"Please leave contact details with your vehicle if is necessary to abandon it.

“If overnight accommodation is needed, we would advise motorists to stay with nearby friends or relatives, if possible, or to make use of hotel accommodation, or contact police or their local council."

Temporary shelters set up throughout the town are seeing more and more visitors arrive.

Rowena Robertson from Hazlemere and Margaret Boyne from Totteridge arrived at the Salvation Army in Frogmoor earlier this evening, having never previously met each other.

They have now agreed to meet for a cup of tea at a later date, having shared the same experience.

Mrs Robertson gave up trying to get home at 8pm, having left the Eden Centre’s car park at 4.15pm.

She said: “There’s a serious problem in High Wycombe with traffic.

“Where I come from in Shrewsbury, they have under-road heating on the major hills. We have got nothing, not even grit.”

Mrs Boyne added: “All this stems from the council not gritting the hills. It’s disgusting.”

Salvation Army Commanding Officer Tony Frost said: “We are just delighted to help. It’s the least we could do, especially if there’s no room at the various inns.

“It’s what Christmas is all about. There was no room for Jesus at the inn, so the least we could do was open our doors.”

Among those at the Salvation Army this evening were a party of seven from the Gray and Graham families, who had been to see the Aladdin pantomime at the Swan Theatre.

They decided to seek temporary accommodation at 10pm – having gone to the theatre’s matinee performance at 2.30pm.

Jean Graham said: “The Salvation Army have done a fantastic job and always make you feel welcome, but where are the gritters? Or anything, for that matter? It’s just appalling.”

Around a dozen pantogoers were still stuck at the Swan at midnight, with the last show having finished at 9.30pm.

Chefs rustled up some soup for the people unable to get going on their journey home.

The theatre had been on standby ready to take in people searching for a place to spend the night.

House manager Louise Mullan said: “Our staff have been absolutely fantastic. They have stayed behind to make sure people are happy and everyone’s in good spirits.”

The Baptist Church in Easton Street was also looking after people this evening, with up to eight rooms available should they be needed.

Erica Sage was trying to get home to Great Missenden when she gave up trying after being stuck in traffic for six hours.

She said: “You always see it on TV happening to other people and you never think it will be you.

“I’d just like to thank everyone here at the church. They have done a great job.”

Tim O’Brien, a police chaplain, said: “In a weird way, it’s been nice. We’ve never been set up as a shelter before.

“We always try to serve the community as and when we can. It’s been the traditional Christmas spirit and it’s better to be here than stuck in your car.”

Meanwhile, all 32 rooms at The Alexandra Hotel in Queen Alexandra Road are fully booked, while dozens of stranded people will spend the night in the hotel’s restaurant.

A female volunteer at the hotel, who would only give the name Wendy, is helping hotel staff answer the phones and making sure marooned guests are as comfortable as possible.

She said: “Things normally quieten down here at Christmas but all the rooms were snapped up before 6pm, many of which are local people.”

The Holiday Inn at Cressex reported all of its rooms were fully booked by 4.30pm and the Contractors Hotel in West Wycombe Road is also full.

The Papermill Premier Inn hotel is fully booked tonight after travellers gave up trying to get home and decided to check in.

Physiotherapist Andrew Dwar booked in after taking five and a half hours to get from Fitness First at Wycombe Retail Park, where he had been to the gym, to the hotel.

The 30-year-old said: “The car kept spinning and the power steering went. I thought, ‘I’m going to smash into another car’ so I decided to get a hotel.

“I’m a little bit frustrated. I don’t understand why the gritters did not go out earlier.

“Every time it snows in the UK everything grinds to a halt.”

Emma Robinson from Birmingham failed to get up Marlow Hill to get to the M40 to return home. It took her five hours and 40 minutes to get to the hotel.

The 23-year-old visual support manager said: “I’m laughing about it really. You either laugh or cry in situations like this.”

Reports on social networking website Twitter suggest more than 100 people are having to spend the evening at the John Lewis department store in Cressex as the traffic is so bad people are unable to get out.

‘Acuras web’ said in a Tweet: “Just back in High Wycombe from London. Horrible 5 hour journey. This weather is mental!”

‘Jessbarberx’ added: “I’m in High Wycombe and drove one mile in three and a half hours.”

Eden shopping centre is taking in ‘vulnerable shoppers’ into management suites to get them out of the cold and centre manager Daniel Tomkinson has not ruled out turning the multi-million pound complex into an over-night shelter.

He said: “We’ve got a few areas open to vulnerable people, such as the elderly and people with children, and we are making sure they are being kept warm.

“A number of people have left their cars with us and have decided to walk home, many are waiting a while to see if the roads improve, while others are completely stranded.

“We are trying to find these people alternative accommodation and I’m sure, if things do not improve over the coming hours, we will do what we can to get them home or help them.”

He added those that have left their cars over night would not be charged for parking.

Roads are gridlocked throughout Bucks tonight as residents hit out at council chiefs over gritting.

People are leaving their cars and buses having to abandon routes as traffic struggles with icy roads.

Many staff have had to return to work. Traffic is struggling to climb hills to neighbourhoods including Tylers Green, Wooburn Green and Totteridge.

This means it is having to flow into the centre of High Wycombe. Bucks Free Press deputy sports editor Alan Feldberg took four hours to get from Loudwater to Wycombe Cricket Club.

Cars were seen being pushed up Sheepridge Lane, near Little Marlow. As of 8pm traffic is queuing northbound on the M40.

Residents are writing of their frustrations on Twitter.

One said: "Is still stuck in High wycombe. No way I can get home."

Supermarkets are staying open to offer hot food and drinks to stranded shoppers.

Tesco in Loudwater is offering free tea and coffee to visitors and is offering use of its car park – but people are angry at being stuck at the store.

Checkout worker Glynis Stiff, 55, had been waiting to leave since 3.30pm when the Bucks Free Press spoke to her at 10.30pm – having been on duty since 6am.

The Hillview Road resident said: “Everyone is up in arms about the gritters. It’s disgusting. I wouldn’t have voted for the local councillor.”

One female customer, who asked not to be named, spent £149 on shopping this evening.

She said: “I came to miss the Christmas rush. I looked at all the dates. I wish I hadn’t bothered now.”

Ray Shefford of Cock Lane set out to the supermarket at 5.20pm – eventually arriving at 8.40pm.

The 60-year-old said: “I can’t understand why the roads haven’t been gritted. It has been widely reported that this weather was coming. I think it’s a disgrace.”

It was a similar story at the Morrisons store in the town centre, where the café has remained open long past closing time.

General manager Haffi Singardia said around 40 people were preparing to bed down at the supermarket for the evening.

One of them is disabled Christine Marshall – who three hours after leaving her car parking space had only made it as far as the store’s petrol station.

She said: “The whole of Wycombe was gridlocked. I can’t work out why the roads weren’t gritted. I live on Hillview Road and at no point since last Thursday have I seen a gritter.

“Morrisons have been useful, they’ve put our goods in the fridges and freezers. We are all pretty cheerful, considering we are all stuck.

“I was born in Wycombe and have never had this happen.”

A gritting boss today said crews were today salting “secondary” roads and refilling salt bins where possible.

But Si Khan, of Bucks County Council, said grit will be less effective as temperatures plummet further, to as cold as -10 degrees C in Wycombe last night.

Buckinghamshire County Council’s original policy was to grit major roads only and other roads and pavements if conditions are “prolonged”.

Gritters turned to these secondary routes yesterday, more than days after snow hit south Bucks.

Mrs Khan, BCC transport localities team leader, said: “Unfortunately, we only have a certain amount of resources.”

Town centre pavements were gritted on Friday and Sunday, she said.

But the “very rare” conditions meant residents will “not see any difference” to routes gritted overnight, she said. Grit is less effective under -8 digress C, she said.

The 360 gritting bins in Wycombe district were filled in September and October and will be today where possible, she said. Each takes half a tonne and lorries hold three tonnes.

But she said: “The salt is not there for your personal, private use. It is not there for your driveway.

“Some people are just being selfish, coming up with wheelbarrows.”

A Hawksmoor Close, High Wycombe resident wrote on our website: “Someone in a 4x4 came and filled the back of their vehicle with it. Now it’s completely empty.”

Ambulance bosses tonight said they were escalating their alert level.

This means more patients will be transferred in ambulance cars "where clinically appropriate" and all clinical staff are "available to work and support the frontline".

Many residents are angry with the council’s response (see link, bottom of story).

Deeds Grove, High Wycombe resident Janice Atkinson said: “How dare they put our lives in danger? We all knew there was going to be heavy snow on Thursday evening.”

Ken Law hit out at an article in the Conservative-controlled council’s Buckinghamshire Times magazine, delivered to homes at taxpayers’ expense. This “boasts” of 10,500 tonnes of salt stocks, he said.

He said: “As of this cold Sunday evening I suspect they are still filled with 10,500 tonnes because I have not seen a single gritter on the roads.”

Residents are being urged to drive only where essential as cars struggle with icy conditions.

A driver had a miraculous escape after losing control and mounting a pavement in Totteridge Road (see pic, right) – only to wedge between a wall and a parked car.

Witness Steve Walker said: “I've seen the gritters go up Totteridge Hill only twice in two days and the amount of grit they were spraying out was pathetic, really pitiful.”

Buckinghamshire Hospitals NHS Trust said: "During the recent adverse weather conditions, all of the services run by Buckinghamshire hospitals have remained open.

"While some staff have had difficulty travelling to work, all planned outpatient and inpatient appointments are continuing.

"Patients have been encouraged to call in advance and rearrange if they feel they cannot get to hospital safely due to the weather.

"Over the last few days, we have seen an expected increase in A&E attendances and emergency admissions to our hospitals, including those who have fallen and those with chest infections.

"The Trust would like to thank all staff for their continued effort - we value their support during this time."