The amount of grit spread on Britain's icy roads needs to be reduced by up to 50 per cent in an effort to preserve dwindling stocks of salt, the Transport Secretary said yesterday.
Ministers hope the move will tide the country over until the end of the month, when salt imports from the United States and Spain are due to arrive.
The Government stressed that it wanted salt to be spread more thinly on roads, rather than leaving some routes without any grit. The order came amid warnings that up to 20cm more snow could fall in South-west England and South Wales today.
Last Friday ministers instructed local authorities to reduce salting by 25 per cent, but after a meeting of the emergency contingencies Cobra committee yesterday Lord Adonis said significantly more could be saved. He said he had directed the Highways Agency, which is responsible for motorways and trunk roads, to conserve "the maximum possible salt usage each day".
The Transport Secretary said: "In aggregate, these measures will need to conserve between 40 per cent and 50 per cent compared to the levels of usage before Friday's announcement."
Northamptonshire and Flintshire were among the councils reporting critically low grit reserves, as the UK's salt mines continued to work against a desperate backlog. Torfaen Council in South Wales reported just 390 tonnes of remaining salt, scheduled to last until today, and has stepped up security to stop people helping themselves.
Concerns were also growing over the rising repair bill that local authorities will face when the bad weather lifts. The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) said the pattern of freezing and thawing in areas with fluctuating weather could contribute to the creation of potholes, especially on roads where long-term maintenance had been neglected.
"Water gets into cracks in the road surface, it then freezes and expands the crack. Then more water gets in, it freezes because of the weather cycle we're in and it steadily gets worse," said ICE vice-president Geoff French.
Local authorities across the country warned that road repairs caused by ice could send them spiralling over budget. Harrow Council has estimated a £2m bill while Buckinghamshire Council is paying an extra £18,000 per week for repair teams.
UCAS, the university admissions service, has extended its deadline for applications by a week following the closure of 8,500 schools last week.
Despite the improving conditions, authorities stressed the need for vigilance in the wake of at least 30 weather-related deaths since 18 December.
These include the death of a pensioner whose body was recovered yesterday from an icy embankment in Sheffield. Search teams recovered the body of James Maw, 79, after he failed to return home from a trip to buy a newspaper. A post-mortem examination will be held later this week.
Two brothers who died after falling through ice on a frozen lake in Leicestershire were also named yesterday. Dinesh Dattani and his elder brother Kishor Narandas fell into the frozen lake at Watermead Country Park in Leicestershire as they were feeding birds as part of the final ritual of their mother's Hindu funeral.
Amount of snow is forecast to fall in South-west England and South Wales today.Reuse content