My Week: Richard Westall, deputy manager at Gloucestshire Highways

As snow covers Britain, the deputy works manager at Gloucestshire Highways recalls a particularly stressful and busy week
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The Independent Online


As the deputy works manager at Gloucestershire Highways, I'm at work early because the terrible weather we had been warned about for two weeks was coming. We still have the day job to do as well, keeping the highway network in good condition, filling potholes and doing maintenance work on top of everything else. At 7pm we send our 13 gritting machines out to our secondary routes, the ones used by people getting to work or school, with a view to doing our primary routes in the early hours of tomorrow.


It has snowed overnight, but not too seriously that we need to get the snowploughs out. My colleagues have been busy gritting the network overnight, prior to the rush hour. I hear so many people complaining on the radio that they haven't seen gritters about but that's because we've been and gone. It's safer and easier for us to do it when no one's around. I go home to my family while our teams are out again gritting the roads and I spend the evening in the garden with my daughters, making snowmen.


It's much of the same today: organising work crews, getting together the teams. It's hard work as resources are limited, but if the county council were to spend the capital to gear up for the little snow that we get, the cost would be colossal. This is the worst winter we've had since the 1980s; we normally do about 42 grit runs throughout a whole year. So far we've already done 60.


We're running low on salt now. We keep 1,000 tons of salt, and when reserves run at 80 per cent we order more to keep the barn topped up. Unfortunately, over this period the demand has far outstripped the supply and it's just not happened. We were one of the proactive counties; we pointed out this problem with obtaining salt from the mines in Cheshire at the beginning of the week. We know snow is coming in at 3am tomorrow, so again, big preparations take place. I spend most of the evening at home, on the phone co-ordinating the operation for the next day.


Today has been the worst day, as the snow hit us big time overnight. I'm in work at 4am but my daughters don't even make it into college today. We have all the guys out snowploughing this morning and we're under instructions to salt only the main routes. We're getting a lot of flak for it, but there's nothing else we can do. We're seeing a lot of traffic accidents today, nothing too serious, but I have to send people out to clean up the debris. There's no point making plans outside of work, because you often get called in at any hour. I've been out with my wife before and have had to leave her halfway through a meal to go back to work. I'll be looking forward to when this weather passes; my life is very much on hold until then.

......... Interview by Gillian Orr