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England's Transport System in Winter

Volume 516: debated on Friday 22 October 2010

On 26 July 2010 I responded to the interim findings of the independent review panel examining the resilience of England’s transport systems in winter. The panel are publishing their final report today. I would like to thank David Quarmby CBE (chair) and his fellow panel members Brian Smith and Chris Green, for their further thoughtful analysis and recommendations. Copies of the review have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

As today’s report notes, much action has already been taken by local and national highway authorities, salt suppliers, Government and others to help keep our road network moving in the event of snow and ice this winter. But as the previous two winters have shown, we cannot be complacent.

Following July’s interim report, I immediately instructed the Highways Agency to build up a national strategic salt supply of last resort. I am pleased to report that the Highways Agency has made arrangements for the import of 250,000 tonnes of salt which is expected to start arriving this month. I am in full agreement with the panel’s view that this should be considered as a short-term reaction to current exceptional circumstances following two successive severe winters.

I therefore welcome the recommendations to improve resilience in salt supply in the longer term through: greater efficiencies in salt utilisation; increased throughput flexibility by suppliers; a new recommended standard of 12 days (48 runs) pre-season stockholding by local highway authorities; and regular monitoring of the national stock position. I urge all parties to take forward the recommendations that relate to them.

The Department for Transport has already been monitoring the national salt stock position in the run up to winter, in order to help highway authorities and suppliers to make better informed decisions. Working with the UK Roads Liaison Group the Department has also commissioned the production of technical guidance for local highway authorities on standards and methods to reduce the utilisation of salt without compromising effectiveness. This guidance, which will be available from the end of this month, will help to ensure that salt is spread at appropriate and effective levels, but not over-spread, thereby helping to conserve stock as well as reducing costs to local highway authorities. Today’s independent report also highlights the economic and social costs of winter disruption, which highway authorities and others will wish to consider when making their future local investment decisions.

I note the review panel’s conclusion that the rail industry had learnt valuable lessons from the winter of 2008-09 and overall coped well with the severe weather in 2009-10. I agree that the industry can improve performance further still by considering the additional measures around emergency timetables, technical improvements, and ensuring that the industry works closely with local highway authorities regarding responsibilities for de-icing key areas.

The report notes that the aviation industry generally anticipates and manages the effects of severe weather to a very high standard of resilience and is already pursuing measures, including additional resilience around the supply of de-icing materials. I welcome the recommendation that the Civil Aviation Authority should consider improving the availability of performance information for passengers and the market.

Across all modes of travel, the report acknowledges the importance of communications in extreme weather for the travelling public. I agree with the panel that those delivering transport services should continue to look to the opportunities that advances in technology may provide to improve communications with their customers.

Finally, in response to public concerns about the fear of litigation and following a recommendation in the panel’s interim report, the Government are today publishing brief guidance for households and traders who wish to clear snow and ice from paths in front of their property, pavements and other public spaces. I hope that this will empower those who wish to act in a neighbourly way.