Winter Resilience Review

Report on road snow chaos could be too late to avoid repeat

26 July 2010

Complacency on the part of some highway authorities, with inadequate systems and inept plans, led to road chaos last winter, according to the AA in response to the 'Winter Resilience Review'.

The report shows England's overall ability to cope with a bad winter failed due to;

  • an inadequate salt distribution system
  • a scaling back of salt storage
  • reduced salting routes, and
  • little footway clearing

The report published today highlights the fact that after the bad winter of 2008/2009 there was much talk but little action such that the severe winter of 2009/2010 completely exposed the lack of lessons learned after the previous year's chaos.

The AA suggests that unless the recommendation for a strategic reserve is set up immediately, then there could be a repetition of the snow chaos seen last year if there is another severe winter.

Last winter

Prior to winter 2009/2010 the AA sought assurances from highway authorities that England could be kept moving in the event of another bad winter, that assurance was given by the Highways Agency but not by the Local Government Association.

The severe winter of 2009/2010 subsequently had a huge impact on business and households with schools and businesses closed, hospital operations cancelled, people slipping on icy pavements and vehicles losing control on unsalted roads. Many highway authorities effectively ran out of salt – but avoided totally empty stocks by radically reducing salting.


Edmund King, AA president said: "Unless strategic reserves of salt are set up immediately we could experience yet another bad winter on the roads.

"At the AA we had our busiest time ever attending cars broken down in sub zero conditions. Our patrols were prevented getting to some breakdowns due to lack of gritting. Motorways were mostly kept clear but often drivers could not get onto the motorways.

"We appreciate that highways staff worked really hard but they were let down by a failing salt supply system and the fact that a succession of mild winters had led to a cutting back of salt stocks and salting routes.

"This report may be too late for some highway authorities who may still think the last couple of winters were a blip. In our AA/Populus poll* taken just after the severe winter of 2009/2010 AA members were stinging in their criticism of the way local councils failed to grit local roads and pavements.

"We shall again be asking highway authorities what they intend to do to ensure England does not grind to a halt this winter".

From the report

"The AA believes that whilst winter maintenance plans help authorities meet their duties many are, in the case of a long hard winter, undeliverable. Many plans state that in a protracted freeze their winter road treatments will be extended to secondary and other roads – but the reverse was true during the last winter. Local roads were impassable but motorways were fully open yet few drivers could get to them".

Join the discussion in the AA zone


26 July 2010

*AA/Populus survey of 20,109 AA members conducted 12-15 January 2010.