Salt Stocks this Winter

Six days before half of UK slips into freezing gridlock?

14 December 2009

Half of UK local authorities have salt stocks that would last just six days of continuous freeze


Some authorities' lack of winter service preparation, confirmed by Chair of UK Roads Board

The Chairman of the UK Roads Liaison Group review of winter service has now been quoted as saying "I am concerned that some authorities have not embraced the recommendations of our recent report".**

The report urged local authorities to hold a minimum of six days of salt in reserve during winter, to prepare contingency plans for severe weather and establish partnerships with several salt suppliers. Matthew Lugg of the UK Roads Board is quoted as saying that some local authorities had made progress, by filling their salt barns at the beginning of the winter season, investing in additional storage and reviewing their procurement arrangements. It is reported that he remained unconvinced that the whole of the UK will be better prepared for severe weather this coming winter compared to last season.

The AA has again written to Councillor Sparks, Chairman of the LGA Transport and Regeneration Board, seeking assurances of how well prepared local authorities are for a severe winter. The AA President wrote to Councillor Sparks on this issue on the 16 November but is yet to receive a reply.

Edmund King, AA President, said: "We are aware that some local authorities are extremely well-prepared for bad weather on the roads. However, we warned in early February 2009 that some authorities had allowed stocks of salt to dwindle too much and this proved to be the case. These authorities then encountered supply chain problems and were unable to get adequate new supplies. We hope all local authorities will be well-prepared this winter but our fears that there may still be some problems seems to be reflected by the Chairman of the UK Roads Liaison Group's review of winter service."

King added; "Nobody wants to see a repeat of last February's chaos. We are pleased that the AA has been assured by the Highways Agency that there are adequate supplies to cover the motorway and trunk road network. We hope that drivers and pedestrians will also be able to safely navigate most of our roads and pavements in the coming months."

15 December 2009

Industry sources* have told the AA that Britain's local authorities have a quarter of a million tonnes less road salt in stock than they would have carried a decade ago.

Their continued reliance on supermarket-style 'just in time' deliveries leaves too many of them just as vulnerable to a lengthy big freeze or major snowfall as last year.

Edmund King, AA President, has sought assurances that there will not be a repeat of last February's snow chaos on the roads. In a letter to the Local Government Association, he outlined concerns in their own report which indicated that Britain's transport system may not be geared up for another severe winter. The Highways Agency has confirmed to the AA that they are adequately prepared to manage their motorway and trunk road network.

King also sought a guarantee from the LGA that lessons had been learnt from last winter and said there should be a more joined-up approach to any potential snow emergency on the roads, including the strategic stockpiling of salt and intervention by the Department for Transport if local authorities are struggling to cope.

He also pointed out that a post-code lottery exists as regards how much of a priority some local authorities place on keeping roads free of ice and snow. It is estimated that the UK economy lost around £1.2bn due to the ice and snow last winter.


"Around 1,000 people are killed or seriously injured on snowy and icy roads each winter and hospital casualty departments are often inundated with people who have slipped and fallen. Investing in ice and snow clearance, to save elsewhere down the line, makes total sense," says Edmund King,

"We applaud the decision in Durham where the NHS has given £1m to pay for extra gritting to cut the number of people they have to treat. In practical terms there should really always be enough in highway budgets for winter maintenance. We accept that not every road can be treated, but we must do a lot more to keep the wheels of the economy turning in winter emergencies and 'routine' winter weather. That means getting enough salt stocks in place now."

"If people feel their local authorities are failing in their snow and ice-clearing duties, or are doing a good job, the AA invites them to log their comments online."

Last winter's severe cold and heavy snowfalls meant that salt stocks dwindled dangerously low in places with some councils having to 'borrow' salt from others. Even old table salt was used to plug the gap and some councils ordered shiploads of salt from overseas, often at vastly inflated prices – most of which arrived after the panic was over.

The salt re-supply chain in the UK broke down when highway authorities expected a supermarket style 'just in time' replenishment service which was impossible due to the limited capacity of the salt mines and the physical difficulties in just moving so much salt around.

The effect of the chaos last February

In February the chaos on the roads had severe effects:

  • It is estimated to have cost the economy £1.2bn
  • There were 25% more hospital admissions
  • 90% of London businesses said it affected their productivity
  • AA car insurance claims went up by a third
  • AA had 5,000 more call-outs than an average day
  • Hospitals, schools, libraries were closed
  • Refuse collections were affected
  • Around 1,000 people are killed or seriously injured on icy roads each winter

Join the discussion in the AA zone


15 December 2009

* UK Roads Liaison Group report, London Technical Advisers Group, LGA 'Weathering the Storm' report, Select Committee report, Hansard 13 March 2009 Transport Secretary statement, Motorists Forum meeting, published winter maintenance plans from local authorities, discussions with senior Transport officials, meetings with Highways Agency

**IHT Transportation Professional Dec/Jan 2009/2010