Date delivered: 12 January 2010
The current cold weather is the most prolonged spell of freezing conditions across the UK for 29 years. The Met Office do not forecast any significant improvement in the current conditions for some time.
Central and local government have already taken prudent measures to conserve salt supplies in order to keep Britain moving.
However, further measures are required to keep networks open throughout the forecast period of cold weather ahead.
I am therefore putting in place arrangements to give a firm assurance that the essential national and local road network will receive necessary salt supplies to remain open during the freezing weather which is forecast for the next 10 days, and for the remainder of the winter. It is essential that a sustainable salt allocation regime, to keep these essential roads open, is put in place now. If we did not act decisively reserves would run down fast, and essential roads would be at risk of closure if the freeze continues.
I have discussed with local authority leaders and the Mayor of London the need for further salt conservation in order to ensure continuity of salt supply to keep open the essential road network. They understand the need for further action.
I have therefore directed the Highways Agency to conserve the maximum possible salt usage each day, consistent with maintaining the continued safe operation of the national motorway and trunk road network. Following a fundamental review of salt spreading, the Agency advise me that they can conserve significantly more salt usage each day, in addition to the 25 per cent agreed on Friday. We will strive to keep the strategic road network open as we have done throughout the snow and freezing conditions since late December.
In order to avoid individual councils running out and to retain the ability to help any who get into difficulty, Local Authorities will also need to conserve significantly more than the 25 per cent agreed last week, by similarly reviewing their salt spreading strategy and prioritising local networks as necessary. I know that this will be challenging for some. But by so doing, the Salt Cell distribution arrangements will enable new salt supplies to sustain all Local Authorities through the period ahead, and the Highways Agency will also be in a position to provide assistance on a sustainable basis. As and when the weather begins to improve we will give priority to relieving the pressure on Local Authorities.
In aggregate, these measures will need to conserve between 40 and 50 per cent compared to the levels of usage before Friday’s announcement. On this basis we expect salt supplies to be sustainable throughout the period of snow and extreme cold weather. Salt will continue to be targeted to the areas where there is most need.
We continue to take all possible steps to maximise the production of salt from our principal suppliers for the benefit of both Local Authorities and the Highways Agency. Significant additional imports, ordered by the Highways Agency, are expected to commence later this month in order to increase overall reserves. These measures will allow us to alleviate specific shortages on parts of the network or in particular regions or authorities.
It is essential that we all work together to keep Britain moving through the worst period of cold weather we have experienced for 29 years. This is a time for subsuming individual interest in our overall national interest in keeping open the essential road network in all parts of the country.
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