Potholes and grit: councils race to beat cold

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The Independent Online

The worst winter for 30 years took local councils by surprise earlier this year – but 10 months on, many are still struggling to deal with backlogs in repairing potholes in roads and building up grit supplies.

With forecasters warning that rural areas of Britain will suffer an unseasonable "cold snap" of frost and light snow this week, the work has taken on a new urgency.

Almost all councils surveyed by the RAC said they had not yet repaired potholes following January's heavy snow. Many complained of a funding shortfall for road repairs, ahead of an expected further cut in the transport budget in Wednesday's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).

Grit suppliers are also struggling to cope with increased demand from councils and the Highways Agency after stocks proved inadequate last winter. At the height of the cold snap, local authorities worked their way through 60,000 tonnes of salt a day. Stocks ran so low that councils had to stop gritting many rural roads.

Despite government pledges to improve preparations for future winters, one in five councils does not yet have all the grit requested, with an average shortage of 1,700 tonnes. The Local Government Authority said suppliers were having difficulty extracting salt fast enough to meet demand. Every local council has ordered at least as much grit as last year, with 78 per cent asking for extra supplies.

The news comes as forecasters predicted a chilly week ahead, with widespread overnight frost tomorrow, on Wednesday and Thursday – and even snow in some areas. Met Office spokesman Charles Powell said: "By Tuesday there will be more northerly, stronger winds ... It's increasingly likely that there will be snow on Wednesday in northern and north eastern Scotland."

The Local Government Authority (LGA) said councils were worried that supplies were still gridlocked despite the onset of cold weather. A spokeswoman said: "Although there should be a few weeks' grace before gritting is necessary on a large scale, it is not ideal that the suppliers are playing catch-up from the word go. Councils all over the country are responding to this by setting up more arrangements with neighbouring councils to co-operate on supplies, and have looked into foreign sources of road salt."

Councils are seeking more government investment to help them fill in the remaining potholes. Anna Geffert, who conducted the RAC's survey, said: "When I spoke to the councils they said the potholes are the result of the very serious weather conditions and the spending shortfalls. There is simply not enough spending in this area, and the CSR is going to compound the problems.

"All of the councils are very aware of the fact that there are going to be more deaths because of this. With limited resources, the councils are going to have to choose between trying to fill in the potholes or tackling speeding problems and driving problems."

Some councils now have shortfalls of up to £10m in their road repairs budgets. But the LGA is realistic about the chances of getting increased funding from the Government while other departments are facing cutbacks.

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