Friday, January 08, 2010

Serious national salt shortage beckons...

The American baseball player Earl Wilson once reportedly said, "Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough." but it appears that this government seems to be developing that into something of a policy- at least as far as the snow is concerned...

To late, the government has realised that we are on the cusp of a national crisis and after a day of dithering, have finally started to take charge as The Times reports HERE

A combination of good luck and good management meant that Southampton City Council happened to be one of the best prepared local authorities in the country with over 10 days salt stock (triple some authorities), with a fleet of highway gritting machines (albeit some rather elderly)and a workforce to get the salt out onto our roads (unlike some councils, our parks & open spaces teams, refuse collectors, road gangs are all expected to 'muck in'). As a result of our prudence and this Labour government's indolence, we are now being penalised as we have been told we are not a 'priority authority' (I wonder where is?) despite snow being forecast here over the weekend.
At Southampton, we currently (8pm) have 70t of pure rock salt in the depot. This is enough for 3 days salting of the A routes (local authority speak for key roads to hospitals, city centres, major retailers, employers etc, not to be confused with a roads). Our final delivery of 30t direct from salt union turned up this morning. Earlier today confusion reigned as initially local authorities were informed that all future deliveries will be managed through the government’s ‘Salt Cell’. Later today it emerged the Salt Cell’s recommendations to the Salt Union (one of two UK deep salt mine suppliers) were not binding so ultimately everyone and no one was in charge today prior to Adonis's evening statement by which time the government the realised it could no longer continue to fudge the issue.
Every council will have different levels of salt stocks (my guess in anything from no virtually salt to 6 days on a-routes). Certainly the Salt Cell is aware of our salt position and we have to be seen to use our stocks wisely so Southampton will have enough for 5 days of A route salting but we have to allow for the possibility of needing to grit B routes at least once in this period. This assumption doesn’t factor in the possibility that any rain will require an additional salting of the road network. Like most authorities, at the moment we are responding to ad hoc requests for salting and gritting with priority being given to hospitals, emergency services, buses, precincts etc. It is Officer's strong highway operational advice that we do not prioritise salt reserves to filling grit bins which in itself may cause a little public unrest this weekend (if we did, we would use the equivalent salt in the bins to one A route run). Instead, the council will respond to requests for refilling, by stating we will prioritise all requests for salt, but we have to keep the city main routes clear. We are asking that all salt requests should go through the council's Actionline service so they can be recorded and prioritised and have mobile resources available that will respond to requests based on our assessment of risk.
The grim reality is that there is now a national shortage of salt and if the weather is as forecast over the weekend that could develop into a severe national shortage due to poor government planning.
The key message to residents then that extreme care needs exercised during the next few days by those going out on car & by foot and people should only to travel if it is absolutely imperative to do so...
And the second message is as a result of bureaucratic incompetence both prior and during the current cold snap, this government has left the country ill prepared.


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