25% salt cut to eke out supplies

Daniel Bentley,Press Association
Friday 08 January 2010 18:13

Councils have agreed to try to cut use of salt by a quarter in an attempt to make supplies last for the protracted cold snap, the Transport Secretary says.

Local authorities and Mayor of London Boris Johnson had agreed to follow the Highways Agency's lead in reducing salt consumption by 25 per cent, Lord Adonis told reporters.

The Highways Agency has decided not to grit the hard shoulder of motorways in an effort to prioritise supplies.

But it was not immediately clear how councils - responsible for local road networks - would make the same reductions.

Current supplies to local authorities were also sufficient until Tuesday, when the Government's "Salt Cell" next meets to direct the distribution of new supplies.

"My advice from the Local Government Association is that all local authorities have a supply of salt to meet requirements until the next meeting of the Salt Cell on Tuesday, provided they prioritise the distribution of salt in their area appropriately," he said.

"The local authorities will need to take decisions on the prioritisation of salt distribution locally in the same way as the Highways Agency is taking those decisions nationally."

The Highways Agency is reducing salt consumption by 25 per cent a day.

Lord Adonis added: "I've held discussions with the Local Government Association and with the Mayor of London and they agreed similarly that they will seek to reduce by 25 per cent their consumption of salt per day to improve resilience next week whilst prioritising essential public services and roads within their areas."

The Local Government Association, which represents town halls, said councils would take "prudent measures" to reduce salt usage while protecting safety and vital services.

It said measures could include:

* Restricting gritting to priority road networks, or to an even smaller "resilience network" if necessary;

* Reducing the amount of salt in treatments;

* Using grit only where possible on minor roads and where snow has already settled to break up snow and ice;

* Increasing the sharing of salt with neighbouring councils.

A spokesman said: "As a result of the recommendations by Government, councils will increasingly focus gritting on priority one routes and their strategic road network.

"Councils urge drivers to take extreme care on the roads and for information about gritting in their area, people should visit their council's website or contact the council directly."

Lord Adonis emphasised the need for councils to share salt wherever possible as there were large disparities in supplies between different areas.

He also urged householders to help out with snow clearing in the direct vicinities of their homes.

"People should do their bit locally and indeed they are doing their bit in terms of doing their drives and what they can do in their own locality," he said.

"It's very important that local authorities work together collaboratively. There are good signs that they are collaborating but it's important that they do so."

Asked how they should reduce consumption, Lord Adonis said: "These are decisions that local authorities will have to take case by case."

With the UK's two domestic salt suppliers working at full capacity, imports are on order from the Mediterranean and the US.

However, the first imports are not due to arrive until January 21.

Lord Adonis held a meeting in the Cabinet Office this afternoon with Prime Minister Gordon Brown as well as representatives of the Highways Agency, Network Rail, the Association of Train Operating Companies and the National Grid.

David Sparks, chairman of the Local Government Association's transport and regeneration board, said: "Councils will continue to work tirelessly to keep roads clear, people safe and essential services working.

"They will work together with others to economise salt usage and make sure salt gets to where it is needed most.

"As a result of the Government's recommendations, councils will focus more on gritting the most important roads so hospitals stay open and essential supplies of food and fuel get through.

"The safety of the travelling public is vitally important and this will be reflected in the measures councils take to conserve salt.

"Where stocks are low, councils will step up even further their efforts to share salt with neighbouring authorities.

"Ministers have decided that reducing salt use by a quarter will ensure that all councils have enough salt to last, providing they prioritise appropriately."

London Mayor Mr Johnson said the capital's salt cellars remained stocked and the gritters were out.

"I want to reassure Londoners that the capital's salt cellar remains stocked, Transport for London and the boroughs are working as a team and the gritters are on our streets," he said.

"We will do everything humanly possible to keep roads safe and public transport running.

"But with the whole country battling one of the worst winters in living memory and salt in such great demand we must play our part in ensuring the supply does not dwindle.

"Given the unbelievable conditions the capital and the whole of the country has experienced and the bleakness of the forecast for coming days, the national salt supplies are clearly under strain.

"I will continue to argue for the capital to be given its fair share and more but it's wise in the meantime to make the most of what we have."

The Tories accused ministers of losing control of the situation, having "sat on their hands" despite previous warnings.

Shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman said: "This is an admission of utter failure. The lessons of last February's extreme weather have not been learnt.

"The Government has failed to build up a strategic Highways Agency reserve and Labour ministers have sat on their hands instead of putting measures in place to safeguard grit supplies.

"Families will continue to suffer from the Government's incompetence.

"The consequence of Labour's grit crisis is that many roads will not be gritted and it will be dangerous and difficult to drive.

"The Government appears to be rapidly losing control of the situation. We need an urgent reassurance from them that they can keep Britain's roads open if the Arctic weather continues."

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