Record amounts of salt have been ordered by councils this year, but questions remain over the tactics deployed by some winter service teams and the supply chain’s ability to cope with demand.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has published new research indicating councils have ordered an extra 1,500t of salt each for the forthcoming winter.
Cllr Peter Box, chairman of the LGA’s transport board, said: ‘Councils have a huge and important role to play in keeping the country running, and know there is no room for complacency.’ He claimed council highways teams would be better prepared than ever before.
Traffic sign pictureCouncils have ordered an extra 1,500t of salt each for the forthcoming winter, according to the LGA
The LGA’s figures suggest 1.4 million tonnes of salt have been ordered throughout England and Wales – with just 4% of authorities still waiting for deliveries.
Following the extreme winter weather witnessed in 2008 and 2009, the Government ordered a review into the transport network’s resilience to such events.
David Quarmby, who led this work, said ‘My sense is that the resources local authorities had were mostly what they needed. The supply of salt had been the cause of problems.’
Mr Quarmby said getting local authorities to ‘cleverly adopt lower spread rates and use the right mix of grit’ would be key to improving resilience.
David Davis, chair of the National Winter Service Research Group, backed the LGA’s claim that many councils had bolstered reserves, but stressed this included imported salt.
He told Surveyor foreign ownership of UK salt mines had caused a bigger problem for the supply chain by incorporating ‘a much more commercial element’ from the days when Salt Union had considerable stocks above ground.
‘But it should not be for the private sector to hold the resilience stocks,’ he stressed.
The salt industry was defiant when asked what efforts had been put in place to boost the supply chain in line with Mr Quarmby’s recommendations.
Peter Sherratt, general secretary of the Salt Association, said: ‘The supply chain coped well for 50 years and kept the UK well stocked – the last three winters were extreme.
‘Councils increased their stocks and the industry raised the output of salt. This has resulted in the highest levels ever.’
But a senior source from the Government’s ‘salt cell’ network – which has intervened in recent years to control the salt supply after some councils ran out – warned about the cost of imported salt.
Speaking to Surveyor on the condition of anonymity, he said: ‘Imported salt can cost up to three times the price of UK rock salt. Taking the price from £30/40 per tonne to as much as £90. Then there is the time it takes to receive it.
‘The past few years have been a wake-up call for the industry and the Government’s year-round monitoring of council salt supplies should put us in a better position this year.’
Mark Dutton, managing director of Safecote, said: ‘For the majority of winters, the UK supply chain is more than adequate. However, in times of long, cold winters and extreme weather when we have such conditions that last for 10-15 days, then the UK supply chain is put under extreme pressure due to extraordinary usage levels.
‘Councils must ensure they use de-icing products in the best way, and utilise all the latest products and technologies to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Some have been guilty of overspreading in recent years and spreading at temperatures where salt becomes ineffective. There have been instances where councils have spread salt at –10 deg F, and below, when salts effectiveness is minimal, at best.’