Following the severe weather conditions last February, the Government asked the UK Roads Liaison Group to identify the lessons that should be learnt regarding highway authorities’ preparedness for extreme weather events. The UK Roads Liaison Group made 19 recommendations, one of which advised that:
“in considering appropriate service standards, at least six days resilience would represent sensible good practice for determining the number of days resilience during the core winter period”.
The group noted that the Highways Agency was already holding a minimum of six days continuous heavy salting capacity in winter periods. The Highways Agency entered this winter period with 13 days capacity and the Government regard this as the right response following last year’s events.
It is for each authority to consider the recommendations and decide for themselves how best to take them forward. However, a write-round in late October by regional resilience teams (RRTs) in the Government offices found that of those local authorities that responded (a third of local highway authorities), all but one were holding at least six days’ supply, and more than half of those responding arranged to hold 10 days’ supply or more.
The Government have convened a group called the ‘Salt Cell’, bringing together the Department for Transport, the devolved Administrations (Scotland and Wales), the Highways Agency, the Local Government Association (LGA), County Surveyors Society, Met Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Office.
The aim of the ‘Salt Cell’ is to provide advice to suppliers on the most effective distribution of available salt supplies in order to minimise the risk to public safety. The ‘Salt Cell’ is continuously gathering and assessing information on salt stock and resilience levels and is working hard to ensure salt goes to where it is needed most.
On 12 January, the Government directed the Highways Agency to conserve the maximum possible salt usage each day consistent with maintaining the continued safe operation of the national motorway and truck road network. The Highways Agency will conserve significantly more salt than the 25 per cent. which it committed to conserving on 8 January.
For local roads, local authorities will also need to conserve significantly more than 25 per cent., recognising the importance of mutual support to keep Britain moving safely. Local authorities are taking their own decisions as to the priorities of supplies in their localities. They also need to follow the Highways Agency in reviewing their salt spreading strategy.
In aggregate, these measures will conserve between 40 and 50 per cent. compared to usage before the announcement on 8 January. On this basis, the Government expect salt supplies to be sustainable throughout the period of snow and extreme cold weather.
We have also set up mutual aid arrangements, between the Highways Agency and local authorities, to help relieve areas which are experiencing particularly tight stocks of salt.
We will continue to monitor salt supplies and work with all stakeholders, including the Highways Agency, Local Government Association and salt suppliers, to ensure that we continue to take the necessary collective action to ensure salt supplies are provided to those who need it most.
Winter service is an integral part of highways maintenance, and contributes to highways authorities’ discharge of their traffic management duties. To separate it from these other aspects of providing a highway service would offer no benefits but could create inefficiencies.
Grit is not used to treat the Highways Agency’s road network and as such, no grit has been requested from local authorities.
Over the last six months, the Highways Agency has made one request to borrow salt from a local authority. This was granted on 3 January 2010 when one of the areas in the agency’s north-eastern region borrowed 40 tonnes from Northumberland county council. Other than this occurrence, the Highways Agency is not aware of any other circumstances where salt was borrowed from local authorities in the last five years.