Image: John Fielding
It's that time of year again, when parents gird their loins to resist the terrifyingly powerful of children's pester power, and councils across the land prepare to face the wrath of angry constituents as they struggle to cope the coming winters 'unprecedented' snow events. However, after a storm of criticism of their performance last year several Welsh councils are making extra preparations to cope with any extreme cold weather events in the coming winter. Cardiff, Swansea, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Flintshire councils have at least doubled their stockpiles of road grit. Others have brought in hundreds of extra tonnes. It all means that Welsh stocks of road grit are at their highest ever levels after criticism when supplies dwindled in last winter's big freeze.
Councils across Wales came under fire when supplies of the grit they use for keeping the roads clear ran short after snowfall and freezing temperatures arrived last November and stayed for weeks. With record low temperatures and drivers facing hazardous conditions, local authorities were forced to begin treating roads earlier than expected. It meant that by Christmas, the Wales Local Government Association (WLGA) was warning of dwindling stocks and councils were having to prioritise major thoroughfares. In the end the Welsh government stepped in to give £7m towards fixing damaged roads and directing how national grit stocks would be shared among the struggling councils - not an entirely welcome development. A spokesman for Monmouthshire council, which has thousands of extra tonnes in stock, said: "Once the weather gets really bad the distribution is handled by the Welsh government and done on the basis of need... Since we were never in serious danger of running out of road salt, we were shifted down the waiting list in favour of authorities that were about to run out. This is despite having put orders in earlier than many others."
However for this winter it is hoped that things will be different. With parts of Wales having already seen frosts this month councils say they are better placed to deal with wintry conditions than last year. Cardiff council, which was heavily criticised last year for its response to the worst snowfall since 1983, has more than doubled its salt stocks from 1,800 tonnes to 4,000, with another 3,000 on order. Vale of Glamorgan said its 4,600 tonnes, while being the same as last year, is almost double that of previous years, which gives it enough stock for 80 days of continuous gritting. As well as doubling its salt supplies Blaenau Gwent has adapted extra vehicles for snow clearing duties.
A Welsh government spokesperson said last year across Wales about 193,000 tonnes of salt was used, while at present the country as a whole has approximately 228,000 tonnes already in stock.
However Paul Watters of the AA sounded a note of caution: "If we have a cold winter, the critical factor is how long it lasts... If the existing stocks get used up, there are always re-supply issues but we are starting at a much higher base point than last year."