Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

Written evidence from Durham County Council (AWC 10)


The severe weather, experienced in November and December 2010, gave rise to a number of issues that require further consideration. Following the Quarmby Report into 2009/10 winter, Durham prepared itself well and these are highlighted in the first part of the submission. However, there are still challenges that need to be addressed that are outside the control of the local authority and rely on Central Government intervention in relation to winter damage to highways and salt procurement.

Lessons Learnt from 2009/10

· Winter Service Plan has been updated in line with Overview and Scrutiny recommendations and current best practice.

· Real time communications have been improved in terms of website information, press releases, winter maintenance information put out to the whole of the population of County Durham either by leaflet or newspaper and SMS text service

· Much work has been carried out in setting up partnerships with 9 Town and Parish Councils and initiatives with the volunteer sector

· Salt utilisation and best practice has been discussed regionally with Operations Work Groups. As a result we now use only ABP salt (treated) which allows us to cut our spread rate by 30%

· North East Regional Winter maintenance Group has been set up (all 12 Local Authorities participate) and meet regularly and this includes participation by Civil Contingency Unit

· Regular monitoring of salt stocks is carried out within each local authority and shared across the region.

Weather Forecasting

The current weather forecast provider for Durham (Meteogroup) has provided accurate and timely information relating to 24hr and a two to five day trend. A 30 day forecast is available which accuracy is not guaranteed. This gives temperature trends and whilst periods of intense snowfall would be of great benefit, it has to be questioned whether this is possible to the degree of accuracy required.

Road Condition – Potholes

At the end of the winter of 2009/10, the worst for some 30 years (at that time), an analysis of related data including highway claims, highway safety inspection reports and customer relationship management service requests was undertaken. This suggested, as a result of the severe winter weather during the last quarter of 2009/10, there had been an increase of up to 2.5 times the normal levels of reported problems in the condition of the highway network in Durham.

From the above information, it was estimated that £2M of additional funding would be required during 2010/11 to deal with the more urgent cases of highway defects based on priority, and to ensure the safety of the travelling public as well as to protect the highway infrastructure from more serious deterioration. It should be noted that he annual highway maintenance spend on revenue patching/remedial repair works is usually around £1M.

This national problem, which was well-documented last year was also recognised in last year’s Budget announcement which confirmed £100M of additional revenue grant funding (£84M for England) would be allocated to Local Authorities to tackle the issue. In this regard, Durham County Council received £1m of grant contribution from the Government towards the cost of winter damage repairs.

As a result of the more recent severe winter weather during late 2010; the coldest December for 120 years, and following on from the previous year’s severe winter; highway networks across the county have again been left with highways in a seriously deteriorating condition blighted by potholes. In response to this reported highway damage, it has been necessary to deploy additional potholing and patching gangs who have been working across the County to tackle these urgent remedial works on the highway network.

It is estimated that to deal with only the more urgent priority cases of highway defects which have materialised during November and December 2010, a further £250,000 of additional funding will be required this financial year (2010/2011). It should be noted that the current requirement for additional funding only relates to the worst winter damage caused during November 2010 and December 2010. There will no doubt be further remedial works and associated additional funding requirement over the coming months due to continuing deterioration and damage.

Without exception, the results of customer surveys on highway maintenance both local and national, through the DCC Citizens Panel, National Highways and Transportation Survey and more recently the DCC Residents Survey have confirmed that the top priority for the public in relation to the highway is road repairs and maintenance and the associated need for greater investment in this service. Yet, to date, no additional grant has been offered by the Government to address the current situation.

Salt Stocks

You will be aware of the effects of the winter of 2009/10 in respect of salt stocks. Due to the shortages at that time most authorities ended that winter period with empty salt barns, something that is not usually the case.

Summer restocking by the suppliers was not finally completed until November, not helped by the fact that some authorities, such as Durham, heeded Quarmby’s advice and increased resilience. The effect of this was that suppliers had no reserves above ground to deliver restocking throughout the winter period.

Given the severity of the recent winter, significant amounts of salt were used which depleted stocks held by local authorities. With no winter restocking taking place (Durham received its first delivery on 10th January 2011) and offers of assistance from the National Strategic Salt Store rejected (Durham received its first delivery in the latter half of January 2011) NE authorities agreed to cut back on salt usage to preserve stocks from 25th December 2010 and agreed to procure additional salt from overseas.

It should be noted that in the past year there seems to have been a lack of transparency with regard to the National Strategic Salt Store. Whereby local authorities have been submitting large amounts of data to DfT however there has been much rumour and conjecture as to whether Salt Cell has been in operation or not, if the mines have been told or advised with regard to deliveries to local authorities. In previous years DfT have shared the national picture with all authorities which is useful. There is also still the issue of speed of response with data being provided Monday and decisions not explained until Wednesday of the same week and then deliveries following a week after the initial submission.

The picture going forward is that many salt barns across the Country are likely again to be empty or near empty at the end of the winter season Mar/Apr 2011. Suppliers still have no reserve so we may be entering winter 2011/12 in exactly the same position as 2010/11. In order to resolve this problem, suppliers should procure sufficient salt, from overseas if necessary to enable a reserve sufficient for the needs of their salt clients over winter. The costs of this will be borne by all clients, rather than those who are committed to securing sufficient salt for their winter service.

Central Government should therefore:

· lend support or pressure salt suppliers into maintaining a salt reserve prior to winter 2011/12 and

· procure sufficient salt for the Strategic Salt Stock before winter 2011/12


Winter 2010/11 has been severe and created much the same problems as in 2009/10. The Winter Resilience Review has made local authorities think more about the service that should be delivered and how that should be done. However, in reality, all that has been achieved is that the reserve salt stocks have transferred from the mine head to local authorities. It follows that given two severe winters on the trot, there is insufficient salt being produced or in stock, to deal with the demand that such winters dictate. It is essential that headroom is provided by the suppliers importing more salt during the summer periods.

More so in this period of austerity, damage due to the freeze/thaw action of very cold temperatures is causing damage beyond which the highways maintenance revenue budgets can cope with. Where we have periods of intense cold, as the ‘the worst winter for 30 years’ or ‘the coldest November/December since records began’ then offers of financial assistance from Government are essential.

February 2011