North Yorkshire County Council has revealed a plan to drastically cut the amount of salt it spreads on roads during icy weather.
The authority has said it could save up to £195,000 a year due to recent improvements in the ability of gritter lorries to spread more accurately and a reduction in the average age of the Conservative-led county council’s gritting fleet.
The authority, which is facing having to make further large-scale cuts to its budget, has said a 40 per cent cut in its spending power due to government austerity cuts has made it “impossible to provide some of the programmes that we previously did”.
The proposal follows the council dismissing calls in recent years to review its gritting policies amid claims that parts of the county have repeatedly seen gridlock due to a lack of gritting.
Under the Highways Act 1980, councils have a duty to ensure within reason that safe passage along roads are not endangered by snow or ice, while the Traffic Management Act 2004 requires authorities to do all that is reasonably practicable to manage the network effectively to keep traffic moving.
The Local Government Association says with the salt and grit mix costing up to £40 per tonne, this duty can weigh heavily on councils, particularly when there are long, cold winters.
The severe and early cold during November 2010 saw councils use as much salt as they would do in an average winter – roughly 300,000 tonnes. And throughout all of the 2011 winter, 1.2 million tonnes were used.
However, a report to the council’s leading members and officers states the pressure on its budget has eased over the past few years due to improvements in salt storage facilities allowing it to move from minimum spread rates of 23g/m2 down to 10g/m2.
It said gritter lorry improvements had led to officers being confident in recommending moving towards the minimum salt spread rates of 8g/m2, as outlined in fresh national guidance. The report states actual spread rates used will be an operational decision and will be based on the prevailing road and weather conditions at the time.
However, it adds reduction in the minimum salt spread rate will result in significant savings. While no two winters will be the same, analysis of the salting runs in 2018/19 show had the option to salt at a minimum of 9g/m2 been available it would have resulted in a saving of over 3,300 tonnes of salt, saving around £120,000.
The report proposes that if a move to 9g/m2 this winter proves successful, and officers’ confidence in the accuracy in the gritting fleet remains high, they hope to lower the minimum salting spread rate to 8g/m2, and 12g/m2 for road surface temperatures between -2 and -5 on damp roads. The report says the further reduction should result in extra savings of around £75,000.
Leader of the council’s Independent opposition group Councillor Stuart Parsons said the 50 per cent salt and 50 per cent sand and grit mix used by the council’s lorries meant it had little impact on ice and left enormous amounts of residue on the roads.
He said: “Every year groups such as Richmond Pride are faced with clearing 30 or 40 bin bags of grit that has been flung out on the road.”
Cllr Parsons added: “If they are trying to convince people that their idea of a single North Yorkshire unitary authority will work, communities having to put up with less effective treatments for ice and snow is a good indication of where the county would be going.”