Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

Joint written evidence from United Kingdom Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG) and Association of Directors of Environment/Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) (AWC 05)

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1 UKRLG is a body made up of representatives from UK Governments, Strategic Road Authorities and Local Government Technical Associations including ADEPT. Its prime role is to advise UK Governments on highway maintenance policy, including winter maintenance, promote best practice through national codes and guidance documents, and promote and support research and innovation in the highway sector.

1.2 ADEPT is an association of Directors from upper tier and unitary authorities who have responsibility for, inter alia, local transport and highways. It was formerly known as County Surveyors Society (CSS)

1.3 The UKRLG has played a significant role in helping advise UK Governments on highway related transport issues, not only during this current winter but also during the two preceding severe winters.

2. BACKGROUND

2.1 Lessons from Severe Weather February 2009

2.1.1 After the 2009 winter the Secretary of State for Transport asked the UKRLG to identify lessons that could be learnt from the events of winter 2008/09 and to recommend steps that could be adopted by highway authorities, producers and suppliers of salt and other stakeholders to ensure England is even better prepared should similar events occur in the future.

2.1.2 The review made recommendations in four themes: -

i) Winter service resilience

ii) Preparation for and operation of winter service

iii) Communications

iv) Procurement

2.1.3 The review presented a package of recommendations to develop and improve highway service in winter. It was important that all parties involved considered the recommendations as a whole. The key recommendation, that highway authorities adopt a winter resilience standard, was introduced to help ensure that preparation for winter service was more rigorous and that more resources, especially salt, were available to respond to severe conditions. The document, which is available through the UKRLG website* (link attached at foot of this submission), was published in July 2009 but was not endorsed by Government until December.

2.1.4 One of the early deliverables recommended by the UKRLG was an introduction leaflet for councillors and senior local authority officers about the preparation for winter conditions on their highway network, which was forwarded to all local highway authority chief executives in December 2009 (see leaflet on UKRLG website*).

2.2 Winter 2009/10

2.2.1 During the severe winter weather of 2009/10 ADEPT was one of the organisations representing local highway authorities on Government’s Salt Cell and, through liaison with its members, helped disseminate advice on prioritisation of salt distribution and measures to reduce usage.

2.3 The Resilience of England’s Transport System in Winter – An Independent Review (The Quarmby Report) (See website** - link at foot of report)

2.3.1 Both the UKRLG and ADEPT provided significant input to the review.

2.3.2 The Quarmby report (in paragraph 10) stated that the UKRLG recommendations and the updated Code of Practice were thought by witnesses to be fit for purpose but that the Government’s endorsement of the recommendations and their incorporation into the updated Code of Practice came too late to have much impact on the planning and response to the 2009/10 winter.

2.3.3 UKRLG and ADEPT supported all the recommendations of both the interim and final Quarmby reports and continue to play a leading role in the delivery of many of the review panel’s recommendations.

2.3.4 New comprehensive winter service guidance for local authority prioritisation was produced by UKRLG and published in October 2010 (see UKRLG website*).

2.3.5 UKRLG and ADEPT worked with DfT to help produce additional advice on revised salt spread rates, which was published just before Christmas 2010 (see UKRLG website*).

2.4 The independent audit by David Quarmby December 2010

2.4.1 UKRLG and ADEPT gave advice and supported David Quarmby in undertaking the urgent audit of how well the highway authorities and transport operators in England had been coping with the unexpectedly early and severe spell of winter weather.

2.4.2 In the key findings of the audit Quarmby recognised that local highway authorities overall performed well in this period, including those who experienced intensive snowfalls, but while many delivered a high level of winter service, others can still improve further and adopt more good practice.

3. SUMMARY OF THE KEY ISSUES

3.1 This winter and the previous two have severely tested the resilience of local authorities’ winter maintenance services.

3.2 Local authorities in general have performed well and disruption to the main roads has been minimal. Public response, at a local level, has been generally positive, particularly where efforts have been made to address problems with pavements and local non-highway facilities, such as car parks, school accesses etc.

3.3 There has been good engagement and cooperation between all the bodies involved in responding to the implications of the last 3 winters, particularly DfT, LGA, HA as well as ADEPT and UKRLG.

3.4 There has been a considerable amount of new advice and guidance produced, supported by UKRLG and ADEPT, much of which has already been acted on and some that will require longer term investment.

3.5 UKRLG and ADEPT support the recently initiated national resilience stockpile of salt and recommend its continuation. However there is concern about the high cost (twice as much per tonne as normal supplies) for Local Highway Authorities (LHAs) who need to access this provision. Two years of the Salt Cell process have resulted in a much improved understanding of the needs of the highway sector and the capabilities of the supply chain to meet those needs. Further improvements can be made to optimise the supply and use of what, for this period of time each year, is a strategic national commodity

3.6 LHAs who currently are unable to meet the new resilience standard of 48 gritting runs equivalent of pre-season salt stock level, as recommended by Quarmby, will need to invest in more storage capacity themselves or place greater reliance on collaborative procurement and storage arrangements to avoid a position where supplies could be exhausted at a critical time. Similarly those Authorities that do not have up to date spreading equipment will not be able to immediately achieve the salt usage efficiencies recommended in the recently published guidance. More and larger salt barns will be required, as well as more up to date salt spreading equipment. Although there may be scope for LHAs to collaborate and share resources to reduce costs, it will still be very difficult to secure funding at a time when local authorities’ budgets are being significantly reduced.

3.7 LHA’s have generally updated their Winter Maintenance Plans and improved their engagement and mutual support arrangements with other organisations, helping to supplement LHA resources during widespread snowfalls. Initiatives such as the DfT’s well publicised ‘Snow Code’, allied to clarity from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in respect of fuel taxation on agricultural activities carried out in support of LHA operations have also contributed beneficially to the overall effort. Local communities have also been directly engaged, via a range of locally derived initiatives, such as the recruitment of ‘snow wardens’ and the provision of ‘snow bags’, all of which fit well within the Government’s localism agenda and demonstrate an encouraging level of commitment to community self-help. This is one area where considerable further advances can be made, through imaginative use of community volunteers and local resources.

3.8 Another recommendation from the Quarmby report to have been taken up and acted upon by LHA’s is improved communications. Early publication of winter service plan details, including gritting routes and contact information, has been supplemented by regular bulletins confirming weather forecasts, conditions and service actions. This has increasingly been extended from the conventional media, i.e. local newspapers and radio stations, to channels such as the internet, Facebook, Twitter etc., thus facilitating and extending real time provision of information to the public.

3.9 Despite all of these advances, there is a clear need to continue to support research and development in Winter Maintenance. The integration of the National Winter Service Research Group into the UK Roads Board will ensure better dissemination of best practice, but there is a real risk that Local Authority funding support for this work will no longer be available.

3.10 Finally, the widely quoted reason for the lack of growth in the economy in the last quarter of 2010 was the extensive disruption to travel and economic activity caused by the severe winter weather. This, in turn, suggests recognition of the significant economic benefits of investing in Winter Maintenance Services and improving overall resilience during severe winter weather.

* http://www.ukroadsliaisongroup.org/liaison/winter.htm

**http://transportwinterresilience.independent.gov.uk/docs/audit/winter_resilience_audit.pdf

February 2011