Peter Wake, associate at Weightmans LLP, takes a look at a report into how the UK transport system dealt with the extreme weather during the last two winters
An interim report from the Winter Resilience Review Panel identifying how the UK national transport system coped with the last two winters has recommended measures to get local councils and the public ready for the coming cold season.
The independent Winter Resilience Review was announced earlier this year by the former transport secretary, Lord Adonis, following the worst winter weather for 30 years. The review is chaired by transport expert David Quarmby with the initial remit being to identify “quick wins armed at improving resilience in preparation for Winter 2010/11”.
The Review’s interim report makes 17 recommendations covering highway authorities’ winter maintenance, the road salt supply chain, public expectations, weather forecasting and self-help by the public. It focuses particularly on the need to keep our road network moving in the event of snow and ice next winter. Key recommendations include:
• that government imports and stores 250,000 tonnes of salt for last resort use by local highway authorities to help ensure there is enough to deal with a winter as bad as last year
• that all local authorities review and update their winter plans, including consulting fully on the networks to be treated, and considering whether less salt can be used while maintaining effective coverage
• that government helps the public by developing a short, simple code of good practice to reassure and encourage them to clear snow and ice from footways and to help guard against negligence claims. This guidance should be made available to households by local authorities
• that properly coordinated research is needed to update various technical standards, so that local authorities have authoritative guidance for improving salt utilisation.
The report bears reading in full but useful comments include the indication that footways remain somewhat neglected. Whilst recognising the practical limitations, the report suggests that certain stretches of footways should be subject to appropriate de-icing and snow clearance under severe weather conditions; examples given include footways to and from major stations and transport interchanges, and in pedestrianised areas in the vicinity of hospitals and schools.
It also comments on how information about what is and is not to be treated in a local highway authority network needs to be widely shared at the beginning of the winter season – examples of leaflets, websites and real-time information through local radio are all commended.
The volume of salt to be stored is a key issue which will be fully addressed in the final report. Although recognising that resilience was a local decision, the UK Roads Liaison Group recommendation of six days resilience seems sensible. Furthermore, winter service planning should form part of a local authority’s more general resilience planning for contingencies.
Good practice guidance
There has been a raft of good practice guidance published for local authorities dealing with the problems presented by severe snow and ice. The Interim Review will be supplemented by the final report in the autumn of 2010 with the focus on longer tem preparation and improvement. It was acknowledged that the 2009 UKLRG recommendations and the updated Code of Practice for planning and delivery of winter service may have come too late to have much impact on the planning for and response to the last winter.
Whilst the practicalities of implementation and the finite resources available will always be relevant, it seems clear that authorities will now be expected to have considered the recommendations and guidance and make informed decisions as to whether it can be implemented.
As David Quarmby states: “We can’t know when such a severe winter will hit us again, but we can take steps as a nation, to ensure that when it does, we will cope better. This report highlights the short-term need for national government and local councils to ensure that they have plans in place, and enough road salt, to deal with the possibility of another severe winter in 2010/11.”
For more information
The Winter Resilience Review Interim Report can be accessed at http://transportwinterresilience.independent.gov.uk/docs/interim-report/