Session 2010-11
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Written evidence from the Institute of Highway Engineers (AWC 15)

Final Report of the Independent Review of Winter Resilience

Institute of Highway Engineers



Recommendation 1: That for the forthcoming winter the need for a strategic reserve stock of salt for England’s highway authorities be recognised, if the resilience to handle the risk of its being as severe as last winter is to be secured, and given the projected shortfall of UK production against the possible demand; and that the Highways Agency should be t ask ed, on behalf of the Secretary of State, to acquire by import, store and make available on terms to be agreed an initial reserve stock of some 0.25 million tonnes of salt for ‘last resort’ use by local highway authorities and for itself; and that the DfT at the end of December should formally lead the consideration and review (using information and forecasts then available) of whether further additional reserve stocks should be secured for the remainder of the winter.

The availability of a strategic stock was clearly not adequate to deal with the number of requests received from local authorities who faced low levels of stock as they approached the Christmas period. The criteria for the release of supply were so defined that local authorities would be at near critical/emergency levels before any supplies could be released.

It was clear that the location of the stock also affected the possible release of emergency supplies.

There were no supplies north of Humberside for example. Local authorities were also unable to determine from DfT the amount of salt being released under this process.

Recommendation 2: A systematic year-round process of collecting data, monitoring salt stocks and movements and disseminating the findings should be put in place by DfT , to give advance warning of any issues affecting prospective salt supplies and availability, and to provide the basis for regular strategic overviews of the salt supply chain and any necessary decisions by them or other parties. This should be independent of any need for the operation of Salt Cell in ‘allocation’ mode.

Salt stocks at 1 October 2010 were adequate in many local authorities and in many cases in excess of the total volume of salt used during the 2009/10 winter. However, once it became apparent that salt was being used in considerable quantities, the amount of salt reserves and capacity of the manufacturers lead to an inability to obtain further supplies. The year round monitoring process which is supported should include the quantities of salt available in all reserves arrangements and at manufacturers’ bases.

Recommendation 3: The vulnerability and lack of resilience of the salt supply chain as currently configured should be recognised; that some targeted intervention needs to be designed which will substantially improve the resilience of the supply chain with minimal impact on the normal functioning of the salt market in the UK; and to note that the development and evaluation of proposals for this is a key part of the Review’s stage two work, which will be presented in the Final Report in the autumn.

There is still some way to go before there is an adequate reserve of salt supplies as a result of the past winter requirements. In order to rebuild that reserve supply, consideration should be given to obtaining stock from outside the UK as clearly the current UK market is unable to satisfy demand.

Recommendation 4: DfT should consult with the Scottish and Welsh authorities about the implications for Scotland and Wales of these short term recommendations for the salt supply chain.

Scottish authorities recognised at an earlier stage that there were supply problems and made appropriate arrangements.

Recommendation 5: Every local highway authority should have a robust winter service plan, and should regularly review the key elements of it, including network coverage, operational procedures and standards and appropriate salt stockholding to meet defined resilience standards, all in line with current best practice.

There are areas of good practice within local authorities regarding robust review. Many rural type authorities have made substantial efforts to increase resilience to winter situations but this is less true for some urban authorities where little review has taken place.

Recommendation 6: Consultation on treated networks should be broadly drawn to include business representatives, passenger and freight transport operators and local communities, as well as health and education service providers; and to help manage public expectations should be followed by clear and comprehensive communications of winter service plans, supported by good real-time communications through media and on-line when winter conditions arrive.

Authorities should be required to produce and publicise their winter plans and consult residents and businesses on the contents- such plans should also be part of local resilience arrangements.

Recommendation 7: As many local highway authorities already do, authorities should collaborate with and support lower-tier authorities to help ensure that maximum practical winter support can be given in areas and communities beyond the treated networks, including possibly the treatment of key footways and pedestrianised areas.

There has been an increase of collaboration but this needs further work in some areas. Particular attention should be given to local priorities and such decisions are best made by the local community

Recommendation 9: Professional bodies and the Local Government Association should encourage the more widespread dissemination and adoption of best practice in the preparation and delivery of winter service plans.

IHE intends to support a national standard of competence for local highways staff engaged in the decision process and in service delivery. Authorities should consult and work together on supporting those smaller authorities as well as seeking to see similar standards of delivery than having different arrangements across authority boundaries.

Recommendation 10: While recognising that the resilience of salt supply is being addressed as a nationwide issue, local highway authorities can support this and should:
- all participate fully in the year-round systematic information collection and monitoring of salt stocks and movements which we are recommending should be adopted by
DfT ;
- ensure their own planning of salt stocks and supply is sound and carried out in accordance with best practice, and supported by practical measures to improve salt utilisation;

- put in place (or confirm where existing) mutual aid with neighbouring authorities to help address localised shortages.

An example of good practice exists in the North East of England. The 12 local authorities and the Highways Agency have set up a working group to consider

· Mutual aid and salt supply resilience

· Best practice inn service delivery

· Best practice in communications both to and with the media and general public

Recommendation 11: Local highway authorities should treat their winter service planning as an integral part of wider general resilience planning for civil contingencies, bringing to the development of winter service plans the benefits of processes and disciplines associated with resilience planning, together with the culture of constructive challenge and validation.

Greater effort should be made to include civil contingency teams in dealing with winter problems. Their methodology and planning can be used to greater effect than operational winter crews can manage to deal with any social, medical or welfare arrangements.

Recommendation 12: The Highways Agency should be commended for the research-based measures it has put in place to improve its salt utilisation. It should:
- continue to research and monitor the efficiency of its practices and strive to improve the cost-effectiveness of its winter service operation;

- share best practice, research and knowledge with other highway authorities.

At the beginning of the snow event in November it was suggested that salt supplies were more than adequate to deal with the conditions and it is clear with hindsight that, at that time, salt was being used in an ineffective manner. The guidance issued by the NWSSG just before Christmas was a useful reminder to authorities about the correct material - either salt or grit - and should be included in the codes of practice

Further work should be carried out to ensure that, wherever possible, salt and grit is spread through mechanical methods rather than hand spread as this can also lead to significant overuse of salt/grit.

Recommendation 13: There should be a comprehensive, authoritative review of technical standards and guidance relating to both the treatment and the spread rates of salt, based on research and evidence as necessary, leading to the production of practical guidance for practitioners as well as at a policy and planning level. This should be led by the UK Roads Liaison Group (see next recommendation).

There are sufficient standards and guidance available but they not well publicised. More effort should be made to demonstrate good practice and the UKRLG should disseminate such good practice more effectively.

Recommendation 14: The valuable initiative and work of the National Winter Service Research Group should be brought under the wing of the UK Roads Liaison Group, who should take responsibility for and set the strategy for its work programme, including its contribution to the comprehensive review of technical standards and methods.


Recommendation 16: We note and commend the generally high quality and accuracy of short term (0–5 days) weather forecasting now available to support the operational decisions of highway authorities and their contractors, and recommend that the weather forecasters continue to develop their capabilities both for 15–30 day forecasting to meet the resource planning needs of highway authorities, and for longer term seasonal forecasting.

The availability of accurate and high quality weather information has increased There are, however, still problems with what is termed marginal nights where the forecast is for around zero degrees Centigrade. The confidence in such forecasts and the timeliness of changes still needs to be improved.

Recommendation 17: Given that the probability of next winter being severe continues to be relatively small but that severe winters are still possible despite the warming trend, we recommend that winter resilience planning – and the securing of greater resilience in the supply of salt – should continue on the basis of dealing with winters of a severity similar to that of 2009/2010.

As Recommendation 3 above

Recommendation 23 : The review of best practice and technical standards recommended in the Interim Report as a t ask for the UK Roads Liaison Group should be given added urgency, focusing on research which would underpin recommendations for the adoption of lower salt spread rates as a strategic initiative to improve resilience of the salt supply chain; together with a timescale for adoption in early 2011.


Recommendation 24 : The two main UK suppliers should be encouraged to continue their current initiatives to increase their throughputs:

As recommendation 3 above

Recommendation 25 : A new resilience benchmark of 12 days/48 runs should be adopted for pre-season stockholding for English local highway authorities; they should then review their history of usage and mutual aid or other arrangements to consider:
a) whether there is a case for increasing capacity towards 48 runs if it is currently less than this, in addition to filling the capacity they have; or

b) at what level to stock – at or above the 48 runs level – where the capacity exists to do so.


As stated in response to Recommendation 1 above, the current threshold is too close to critical supply levels.

Recommendation 26 : To ensure optimum resilience of the supply chain through a nationally severe winter, achieving benchmark resilience levels across Britain by the beginning of November should be treated as the key priority, facilitated where necessary by imports. The year-round monitoring system being put in place will analyse and overview this process and enable any future shortfall to be addressed.

As Recommendation 3 above

Recommendation 27 :   Building on the UK Roads Liaison Group Report of July 2009, that the Well-maintained Highways code of practice continues to be regarded as best practice by local highway authorities for winter service policy and planning, as modified and reinforced by the specific Recommendations of this Review.

Code of Practice should include increasing the competency of decision makers and operational staff and to agreed national standards of competence.

Recommendation 28 :   Local highway authorities should, in their winter planning and consultation, consider the extent of treatment of footways, especially in relation to bus stops, railway stations and other public transport interchanges as well as to town centres, business premises, schools and health facilities.

As indicated in Recommendation 6 above, consultation on local priorities should include such facilities.

Where local people are able to support their local community by snow clearance, good neighbour contact, and assistance with medical and social needs, their actions should not be hindered by unnecessary health and safety and insurance matters. Advice from UK Government as with the Snow Code should be given to support such involvement

February 2011