The Council’s winter service policy is reviewed and approved on a three year cycle. The current policy was approved in July 2007 and is due for review again later this year.
The Council’s policy / duty is to ‘as far as reasonable practicable’ to treat a defined network known as the precautionary network. This network consists of the ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads and the more heavily used linking roads. A criteria exists to determine which roads fall into this precautionary network. The precautionary network consists of some 1,400km of roads around 40% of the network.
In addition to the main priority, a responsive network is treated when conditions indicate that freezing weather will continue beyond lunch time and resources allow. This criteria also applies to the salting of selected footpaths in the town centres.
The responsive network adds a further 700km to the treated network.
The precautionary and responsive networks are published in the East Riding News each November and are available on the Council’s web pages.
Compared to last year the start of this winter season (the winter season runs from October through to April) was very mild.
The first signs of winter weather came on Friday the 18th December and has stayed with us. An extremely unusual occurrence where past experience has shown short periods of snow tailing away within a week.
The weekend of 19th and 20th was particularly bad and a forbearer of things to come. Road surface temperatures have remained at / below freezing throughout the period meaning any contact with snow / sleet / rain has caused ice unless salt has been present. Even where salt has been present on less trafficked roads the masking effect of snow followed by sub-zero temperatures has resulted in freezing snow over the salt. In some places temperatures have been as low as -100c. Over this weekend much of the East Riding was covered with snow in a fairly short period of time covering all road surfaces (including treated ones).
Across the weekend of 19th and 20th repeated treatments were undertaken using some 2,000 tonnes of salt in two days.
The weather is forecast to remain in such wintery conditions through towards the end of January. However it needs to be noted that the longer term forecasts carry less confidence then shorter range forecasts.
The Council has four salt barns that can collectively hold around 8,000tonnes of salt. These are filled up during the summer months in readiness for the winter season. A framework contract is in place with Cleveland Potash to supply salt to us.
The plan of action is to ensure that for the Christmas close down period that the barns are as near full as possible to see the service through to the resumption of normal services.
At the commencement of 14th December the barns were 90% full with further salt orders in place up to Christmas Eve to replenish any envisaged usage. This plan was severely challenged with the onslaught of the extended period of bad weather commencing on Friday the 18th December and the usage on that date and over the weekend to combat the conditions. The depletion of stocks combined with a forecast showing a continuation of similar conditions required a re-evaluation of the plan and a daily monitoring of usage coupled with attempts to increase the existing orders of salt to ensure the continuity of the service and to meet the Council’s stated Duty.
Salt suppliers are under pressure to meet customer demands which is causing a significant spike in orders and quantities of salt requested by all customers at the same time. This spike is having to be managed by the suppliers by limiting supplies to each customer to ensure that all get something.
Salt stocks continue to be monitored on a daily basis.
Winter operations have continued around the clock from 18th December to date. The primary focus has been on the precautionary network and over the period the crews have been out some 35 times. In addition to this responsive salting has been undertaken during the day time, salt bins have been re-filled and town centre footpaths salted by teams from Environmental Services. In excess of 7,000tonnes of salt has been used between Christmas and return to work.
This compares to a more usual operation over the period of less than half this level of activity and a salt usage of typically 2,000tonnes.
Operations are controlled from the main winter operations room at Beverley Depot and this has been manned throughout the period.
As necessary particularly on the higher ground some ploughing has been undertaken to move snow and slush off the carriageway.
With limited exceptions the precautionary network has been kept open to traffic.
Operations continue and look set to continue for at least the next two weeks. A 30 day weather forecast from the Met Office indicates that over the next 2 weeks it will remain very cold with periods of precipitation (taking the form of rain / sleet / snow). For the remainder of the month still cold but slightly improved conditions.
Salt usage is being monitored and supplies secured to ensure the service can continue.
Many complaints are being received. The perception seems to be that the Council hasn’t done anything. Much of this relates to footpaths remaining icy over the duration and the lack of treatment to minor roads which do not form part of the network. Similarly people have complained about empty salt bins. It is pleasing that people have used these facilities and bins have been refilled as notified to us that they were in need of replenishing. However the rate of usage has resulted in some being empty for a period of time.
The high intensity operation has inevitably cost more money than would have been expected under normal circumstances at this point of the season. Payments for continuous operations out of hours, procurement of extra salt supplies, transport costs all come at a price.
The budget will be monitored throughout the season and depending on weather conditions up to April the current spike in expenditure may be evened out.