Agenda item

Snow clearing and gritting programme

Report to follow

Minutes:

5.1       The Chair invited Kathryn Haworth, Assistant Director of Highways and Infrastructure, and Jenny Goodson, Highways Operations Manager, to present this item. The report was taken as read and the following points were highlighted:

 

·         This report was to follow on from the January Environment Scrutiny where an interim verbal update was provided on the winter 2022/23 adverse weather event.

·         There was extensive national guidance followed by GCC when creating and implementing the Adverse Weather Plan, particularly around route hierarchy, decisions and treatments carried out.

·         During the winter period of 2022/23 the crews carried out 234 grit runs altogether, which compared to an average profile of 156. This was one indicator that clearly showed the level of adverse weather experienced during that time, particularly in December and January.

·         Officers were keen to highlight the hard work and dedication of the crews during winter months, as well as the community support through parish and town councils, community organisations and individual residents.

·         After every winter period, there was a review of the Plan to see where improvements or changes could be made. The report highlighted particular issues had been identified in relation to gritting cycle ways and maintain safe access to schools. Officers welcomed comments from members to feed into this year’s review. 

 

5.2       The Committee paid their thanks and appreciation to the crews and colleagues in Highways who worked tirelessly throughout the year, but particularly during the winter months to keep our road network safe and accessible.

 

5.3       It was noted that, where areas of the county had parish councils, officers at GCC would be in regular contact regarding creating their own ‘Winter Action Plans’ and the distribution, and maintenance of grit bins, but acknowledged this was more difficult in areas of the county that did not have parish councils. Officers were open to ideas from members about how best to build external resilience in these areas. GCC encouraged communities to, as far as possible, plan for their winter response in advance, which would avoid, for example, requests for salt mid-winter being delayed due to crews being focused on the emergency response.

 

5.4       The existence of a Plan would also help with the coordination of volunteers such as local snow plough operators and snow wardens, outlining clear roles and responsibilities. There was a request for officers to explore better communication channels with communities during emergency response to prevent. An example was given of a clearance delay in December to allow snow plough operators to go out on the network.

 

5.5       A member asked whether it would be possible for key points of contact (parish/community plough operators/snow wardens etc.) within each ward/division to be shared with Councillors in advance of the winter months. The overall aim was to have appropriate contact details included in the Local Winter Action Plans. There did need to be sensitivity around sharing volunteers direct contacts, particularly snow plough volunteers, as they could become overwhelmed with requests, and this would not be being managed centrally. The position of the Snow Warden could be key in acting as that key contact for the area, as well as filtering requests/information.

 

5.6       There was a discussion around the current primary and secondary route maps for grit runs. A member reported that there were whole swathes of their division that remained ‘untouched’ through last winter’s weather event, and these were seen as important link routes for their community. This also caused the local bus route to be partially abandoned until the weather improved.

 

5.7       Officers acknowledged these comments and understood the frustration for members and residents. Members heard that the secondary routes were treated during prolonged cold weather where resource permitted within that area. If an area was particularly hard hit on its primary routes, there would be less resource available to move to secondary routes and it was therefore a judgment call at the time, rather than a planned response. Members were encouraged to feedback any specific key areas that they felt were missed during last winter for officers to review.

 

5.8       It was reiterated that the weather in December 2022 was very unique in terms of unpredicted levels of snow fall and prolonged minus temperatures, keeping primary routes open was a huge effort and a real success for the team. Even if resource had permitted, many of the secondary routes had thick ice being maintained by minus 10 temperatures. It was likely that crews would have found it almost impossible to remove in some areas with the equipment available.

 

5.9       In response to the suggestion that, where the weather was prolonged as in December 2022, there should be resource made available to treat secondary routes, officers advised that there was a balance of risk to consider. The primary routes were a published network that the Council committed to keep safe during adverse weather, moving resource away to treat secondary routes therefore carried a level of risk. The operational decisions made during the 2022/23 winter would be reviewed to ensure the risk balance was right, in the context of the prolonged period.

 

5.10     Officers agreed to produce a member briefing note on the grit bin rollout to ensure councillors knew who to contact to make use of this resource in their division.

 

5.11     A member raised that working with other county councils in this area was key. They had noticed the use of signs for example by Wiltshire County Council on roads subject to ice that gave an alternative route during adverse weather, and the use of an asphalt additive to treat cycle ways. In response it was advised that officers did a lot of benchmarking with other county colleagues and shared good practice as much as possible. There were a number of new technologies being advertised and trailed across the county and GCC were always very happy to explore these.

 

5.12     Officers advised there were a number of possible improvements they continued to explore, for example, securing smaller more flexible gritting equipment that could be distributed across the county, to schools for example, and used within the community, or, using Lydney Town Council as an example, working with communities to identify large, secure storage where they could store bigger quantities of grit salt to make it more easily accessible during cold weather.

 

5.13     It was noted that the quality of weather forecasting was improving. The Council had a forecasting contract which was built for Gloucestershire and measured 3 climatic zones across the county. This was a vital part of the response during the winter, where weather patterns would often change throughout the night. At the end of last year, the company had a 94% accuracy rate on forecasting.

 

5.14     It was queried whether there had been any analysis of road traffic accident data during adverse weather to help inform grit plans in the future. Officers confirmed they would explore this idea and see if there was enough data available to draw any useful conclusions.

 

5.15     A member suggested it would be useful for the Committee to see detail of any changes made due to this review of the Plan, particularly in relation to increasing resource and capacity. Cost benefit analysis of any changes would also be useful for members as a whole to be aware of and in time for the next budget setting round.

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