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Road chiefs warn over grit stocks

Highway chiefs are warning they have already used almost half their winter stocks of salt.

Councils across the west of England are rationing their grit supplies as forecasters predict the cold weather will continue well past Christmas.

After heavy gritting, Wiltshire Council has used 7,000 tonnes of the 13,700 tonnes it ordered.

Despite bringing in more grit and salt than ever before Wiltshire's head of road services told the Western Daily Press he is concerned about running out of grit.

The council said that in previous years it used about 8,000 tonnes, but last winter it used 11,000 tonnes.

The council is now asking for extra supplies from a national reserve.

Graeme Hay, who is manager of the council's highways department, told the newspaper: "We're haven't even got to Christmas yet, we still have the rest of January and February to go.

"We're going to have to be cautious in our approach.

"We will put down sufficient to do the job, but not too much."

Councillor Dick Tonge, the council's cabinet member for highways, said: "I would like to thank staff for their hard work so far and their dedication in continuing to tackle the problems the winter weather is causing.

"We started this year with nearly 14,000 tonnes of salt and we still have more than 7,000 tonnes in stock.

"Winter has started a lot earlier this year and we are managing salt stocks carefully and taking precautions should the Met Office forecast long-term severe weather."

The Somerset highways team has also asked the Government for more grit after using 2,000 tonnes over the last two weeks.

The council, which has used about 3,000 tonnes more salt this year than this time last year, is now down to 1,100 tonnes.

Network manager Geoff Dight said: "It's not good, but it's not panic stations.

"Concern was rising but we were all talking to each other (highways authorities) and hopefully should get through to early January.

"We have just found out that we've been successful in our bid to the Government's resilience stockpile and hope to get 700-800 tonnes week commencing December 27, so we're a lot happier now than we were.

"Whilst we weren't confident, we also weren't overly worried, but it just all depends on the weather and if we get a major snow event."

Somerset Council has stopped treating its secondary road network but said it will still plough these routes during snow conditions.

In Plymouth only major routes are being treated as gritting supplies also begin to run low, but the council has today received a new delivery of salt.

A city council spokeswoman said: "We are pleased to now confirm that 100 tonnes of salt have just been delivered and we are expecting a further 200 tonnes in the next 48 hours.

"This will allow us to continue to grit primary and some secondary routes for the foreseeable future.

"We will continue to liaise with the police on other 'hot spots' that need to be treated and we will aim to treat secondary routes during our morning runs where supplies allow.

"Temperatures are currently forecast to dip as low as -10C in Plymouth tonight and icy conditions will continue so our advice is still to avoid any unnecessary journeys."

Meanwhile, according to the TaxPayers' Alliance councils have ordered less road salt to treat icy roads this year than last year.

The councils have ordered 1.48 million tonnes in 2010/11 compared with just under 1.51 million tonnes in 2009/10, a report by the alliance said.

It added that 75 of the 205 UK councils surveyed had not received all of this year's road salt order.

The alliance also looked at the cost of purchasing emergency supplies of road salt in 2009/10 which came to £10.5 million.

The amount spent varied considerably, with Newcastle Council spending £331,400 on emergency road salt but neighbouring Sunderland not spending anything.

Similarly, Bradford spent £286,000 while Leeds spent £13,400.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) dismissed the TaxPayers' Alliance's claims.

Councillor Peter Box, chairman of the LGA's economy and transport board, said the TaxPayers' Alliance research was "flawed" and "nothing more than an attempt to stir up panic".

He said the alliance had compared eight months-worth of salt orders with an entire year's-worth.

Mr Box said: "The simple fact is that councils prepared even better for this winter, and started it with a third more salt stockpiled than last year."