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Salt supplies 'could be problem' in New Year

Salt supplies could be diminished by the New Year if the adverse weather continues despite local authorities increasing their stocks, a leading council figure said this week.

Northamptonshire County Council corporate director for environment, growth and commissioning Tony Ciaburro, who is also transport spokesman for the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, told NCE that if there is not a thaw before the New Year “then we can have a problem” even though local councils are understood to have enough salt supplies to deal with the current winter weather.

He said that many councils had taken steps to stockpile larger amounts of salt following the winter resilience review into transport disruption of the last two winters due to cold temperatures and snow. The independent report, completed by a review panel chaired by RAC Foundation chairman David Quarmby, found that increasing the levels of salt held by local authorities would be one way to improve the winter resilience of the road network.

This lead to an additional 300,000t of salt being ordered by councils at the start of this gritting season in November compared to last year, which made up an estimated 1.2Mt of salt in total.

The Local Government Association said that, despite the early onset of snow last month and continuing cold weather forecasts, no local authorities have yet reported to be running short, and Ciaburro said: “There’s plenty of salt around, because most places have stock but, because of the early onset of the winter, they have depleted faster than they normally would.

“However, there is insurance and there’s confidence in the supply as the weather’s not going away.”

On Monday, the Department for Transport (DfT) started to take orders from local authorities to access its national strategic stockpile of salt, which was also introduced following the Quarmby report’s recommendations. Transport secretary Philip Hammond told the House of Commons that the first batch of this stock, 30,000t of a total of 350,000t that has been ordered, would start to be distributed to councils in the next few days. Ciaburro said that the DfT should provide “clear guidance about who should have what supplies and when”, in light of the national role that was now being taken.

Local authorities told NCE that they had already bid for some of the additional salt. Somerset County Council said that it had had, at the beginning of November, around 7,000t of salt. A spokesman said it currently has 1,250t, which is likely to reduce to 600t this week, so it had put in a bid for 3,000 tonnes from the national resilience stockpile.

Wiltshire County Council said that it had started the winter with 14,000t and used 6,000t since November. In addition to the 8,000t remaining, it has bid for 4,000t.

Leicestershire County Council director of environment and transport Matthew Lugg said his council had started with around 12,000t of salt, and had now used a third of that. Lugg, who is also UK Roads Liaison Group chairman, said that councils should also be given be greater advice on the concentrations at which salt should be spread by the gritters.

Encouraging a more economical use of salt was another of the conclusions of the Quarmby report, but Lugg said “there hasn’t been enough guidance on spreading, to the extent that [council] areas have robust guidance”. While it can be difficult to get lower concentrations of salt due to certain types of spreading machinery, he said that the savings by reducing the concentration spread from 20g/m2 to 12g/m2, as Leicestershire had done, would allow salt supplies to last longer.

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