As Lancashire prepares for the coldest winter in years, £4m is being ploughed into keeping the county’s roads running smoothly.
Tonight, as the council prepares to scrutinise its Winter Plan, the Post can reveal the preparations that go into keeping vehicles moving on more than 1,000 miles of roads across Lancashire.
County Coun Keith Iddon, cabinet member for highways and transport said: “We have the resources to treat all the A roads, all B roads, and some C roads, which adds up to around 1,500 miles – about a third of the total in Lancashire, within four hours of a freeze being forecast.”
A whopping 29,000 tons of salt is being stored in seven main depots and other sites across the county and a fleet of 45 gritters are primed to operate from seven depots.
During the worst of the weather, the council predicts it could cost up to £100,000 a day keeping traffic moving.
The Council says it provided a gritting service which “as far as is reasonably practical” will ensure road and footpath users are not endangered by snow or ice.
A detailed report being presented to the council’s scrutiny committee on Friday acknowledges the council’s legal duties to keep routes safe from snow and ice.
But the council says it must prioritise use of its “scarce resources” - which it lists as equipment, its work force and salt.
The report says it is “un-economic, impractical and indeed unjustifiable to treat the whole highway network.”
The council has two gritting and clearing options. Priority roads are treated in advance of frost and ice and its “reactive” service sees workers getting out clearing roads of snow and persistent ice.
The Government Highways Agency manages and maintains all trunk motorway and “all-purpose” roads. The council then decides which remaining roads are priorities for it to treat.
Living in Lancashire means being on standby for winter to hit seven months of the year. The council’s winter plan runs from mid-October to mid-April, but it acknowledges bad weather can extend, particularly in Pennine Lancashire, to the end of April.
Housing estates and level minor roads are excluded from treatment.
Meanwhile priority footpaths do not necessarily include paths adjacent to schools and facilities such as health centres.
Councillors will be told future proposals for the service include building a new weighbridge at Singleton to monitor salt use and replacing its weather stations with higher tech “smarter” stations.
Coun Iddon said: “Our primary aim is to always keep the main routes moving to ensure people and goods can get where they need to go, and in severe conditions we can call on extra resources including agricultural contractors to plough the more rural roads and to try to keep access open to more remote areas.”
He added: “We’re well prepared for whatever the weather might have in store for us this winter with plenty of grit in stock and our gritting crews now on standby for whenever they’re needed.
“Experience of recent severe winters, and improving technology, means we’re always refining the way we grit the roads. Lancashire covers a very large area, and the weather often varies considerably across the county – better weather forecasts, and data built up from previous years, allows us to make smarter and better-informed decisions so we can direct resources where they are needed the most and only treat those areas that we need to.”
Depot salt is treated with a molasses based substance which makes it less likely to be blown around on roads and easier to spread and stockpiles are stored in special domes, barns and even an old railway tunnel.
The UK is braced for the coldest winter in five years, according to meteorologists.
The Weather Company forecasts the UK to be hit by very cold Arctic winds this winter.
December and January will likely be “colder than normal”, with all areas of the country affected by sinking temperatures.
Dr Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at The Weather Company, said: “We expect the coldest winter in the UK since 2012-13. “We expect extended spells with a ridge of pressure in the North Atlantic, especially in early winter.
“This forces the jet stream up to the Arctic and back down into Europe, releasing Arctic high pressure from near the Pole directly into northern Europe, with colder-than-normal temperatures.”
During November, however, the UK is forecast to enjoy slightly warmer-than-normal temperatures, along with most parts of Europe.
Emma Sharples, press officer at The Met Office said although “colder spells” were expected this year, there was “still a lot of uncertainty associated with forecasts so far ahead”.
The coldest winter on record was in the winter of 1963, when it fell to -0.18 degrees.
The Met Office recommends people prepare for winter by working through a checklist, including getting a flu jab, buying a winter car kit, ensuring that your home is heated to at least 18 degrees Celsius and make commuter back-up plans.
Keeping the country moving
Lancashire County Council has 45 priority gritting routes.
In priority order they are:
1. Non trunk motorways and the primary route network
2. Remaining principal A class roads
3. All B class roads and roads open to all traffic which:
• link or go through large population centres,
• serve hospitals and key facilities
• serve key employment centres and distribution depots
• important commuter and public transport routes
• serve emergency service responders e.g ambulance, fire and coastguard services
• serve industrial sites with known potential major accident hazards
• serve military centres
• provide single access routes to villages
• roads to crematoriums
4. Some category three roads in rural areas
• Priority “footway networks” are chosen according to proximity to main transport interchanges, employment and shopping centres and hospitals. The council says “when resources permit” these will receive salting treatment during period of continuous snow or ice.
Temperature test on ice
The Council had given notice of a winter service review next year.
It planned to consider a proposal to wait until temperatures dropped half a degree lower, to 0.5C,before getting gritters out.
A decision was due next May, but the Council told the Post this week that the suggestion would not now be considered.
Coun Iddon said:“At the moment we consider treating routes when the road surface temperature is forecast to reach 1 degree and be falling.
“This allows a margin of error and while some authorities have a lower margin of error this is not something we’re considering in Lancashire.”
• Housing estate roads and flatter minor roads
• Some bus routes - if buses comes only once every half hour it’s likely the route is on the priority list.
• Priority footpaths do not necessarily include paths adjacent to schools and facilities such as health centres.