A five month delay by the government in supporting critical measures for managing UK roads in bad weather has contributed to declining salt stocks this winter, experts said this week.
The UK Road Liaison Group (UKRLG) is furious that the government took from July until 15 December last year to approve its report setting out how highways authorities could learn the lessons from last February’s bad weather.
The group’s chairman and Leicestershire County Council director of transportation Matthew Lugg said that the delay in approving the document made it impossible for local authorities to act on its recommendations in time for this winter’s weather.
“The reason we wanted to get it done in July is that there may have been scope to have some influence over this winter,” said Lugg. “It was shared through the local authority network but I think it was unfortunate that the government didn’t endorse it until 15 December.
“If they had given it the profile it could have had more impact,” he said.
“If they had given the report the profile it could have had more impact.”
Matthew Lugg, Leicestershire County Council
The UKRLG is made up of central government departments, regional government representatives from England, Scotland and Wales, local authorities and consultant Atkins helped produce its report.
Lessons from the severe weather February 2009 made 19 recommendations in four key areas. Nine refer to salt supply and storage.
Highways authorities were asked to review their contracts with salt suppliers, consider investing in joint storage facilities with other authorities and review their salt stocks to hold more in case of another bad winter.
“All measures were very sensible but there was not enough time to implement them fully and ensure that local authorities take note. Nobody wants to be in this position again,” said Lugg.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said that authorities should have acted on the report as soon as it was published.
“All the measures were very sensible but there was not enough time to implement them fully. Nobody wants to be in this position again.”
“Most of the UKRLG’s recommendations were addressed to local highways authorities and salt suppliers − and it was for each of these to consider how to take them on board and they have had the opportunity to do this since the summer when the report was published,” said a spokesman.
“The DfT and the Highways Agency started to act on the recommendations − such as increasing the Highways Agency’s stocks of salt − before December.”
A key issue identified in the report was the limited nature of salt supply contracts where many authorities source salt as a one off purchase from a single supplier.
“ Local authorities have to put their hands in their pockets earlier.”
The report recommended setting up frameworks, as well as procuring salt collaboratively and additionally treating it as a service as opposed to a commodity.
“We have got to think further ahead, local authorities have got to put their hands in their pockets earlier. They can’t be relying on re-stocking in winter.
“Last year I said it would be inexcusable if this happened again, for the price of salt it is not worth the disruption,” said Lugg.