Cold comfort

Explaining what the department and Highways Agency is doing to make sure our roads are well prepared for winter.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Norman Baker

Cold comfort: 22nd annual winter maintenance conference video address


I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak at this year’s Surveyor winter conference and exhibition.

As you know and as I have made clear previously this government takes the issue of being prepared for winter very seriously. Whilst it is good that last winter’s weather was not as severe as recent years, it still was the coldest March since 1962 and the equal-second coldest on record.

As we all know, our weather can be notoriously unpredictable. That is why it remains vital that we do not become complacent, and have robust contingency plans in place to deal with any eventuality.

It is, therefore, essential that we do everything possible to keep our road networks operating as efficiently and safely as possible. And you, the winter maintenance sector, are central to this.

The Department for Transport is playing its part to ensure we stay ahead of the game for this winter and is taking action to make sure the country enters the 2013 to 2014 winter season well prepared.


We are doing this by continuing to maintain a substantial national strategic salt reserve and have robust distribution processes in place, if for any reason, this salt of last resort needs to be allocated.

The findings of the recent salt audit undertaken by the department suggest local highway authorities are well underway in restocking salt supplies and early analysis suggests that as a country we will enter the winter season with a good supply.

This is encouraging and indicates that authorities continue to place orders with domestic salt suppliers and are receiving salt stocks. This also demonstrates that the supply chain is also in a much better position than a few years ago.

My department will, as in previous years, continue to monitor salt stocks that are held by authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the Highways Agency on a monthly basis. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, then we will move this to a weekly basis.

It is also vital that authorities continue to help us with this activity so we can see the overall stock holding across the country to ensure there is a good level of resilience, and your co-operation in this is very much appreciated.

My officials are also in the process of updating the strategic salt protocol note that we published on the Department for Transport’s website last year. This note sets out the arrangements for the allocation of strategic salt, if and when required, including the price of salt per tonne. I hope that we will be in a position to publish an updated note in early October.

Well maintained highways winter service update

I am also pleased to announce that the UK Roads Liaison Group in conjunction with UK Roads Board, National Winter Service Research Group, TRL and Atkins are, during the conference, publishing updated guidance on winter service as part of well maintained highways code of practice. This builds on the work that was undertaken in 2011.

You will hear from speakers on the updated guidance over the next two days but I wish to express my thanks to all those involved and I encourage all local authority practitioners to be fully aware of the guidance which I know will help deliver a much more effective and efficient winter service strategy.

There is an exhibition stand being staffed by members of the National Winter Service Research Group and this provides you with an opportunity to learn more about these important guidance changes.

Salt Association – salt assurance scheme

I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight a new quality standard for salt which is being developed by the Salt Association and which is being launched at this conference.

This is something which Bob Ray from the Salt Association will speak about in more detail later in proceedings. This new voluntary standard has the potential to be a valuable tool for highway authorities to ensure that the salt which is purchased meets the quality standards you would expect and has passed through the supply chain in the safest and most environmentally friendly way.

Highways Agency winter driving campaign

The Highways Agency is also finalising its preparations this year’s winter driving campaign – “Make time for winter” - which you will see in the week commencing 28 October. This year the messages will place even greater emphasis on safety and the importance of good vehicle maintenance, with a focus on drivers taking more responsibility for their own actions. This is based around 2 key themes:

  • firstly - be prepared - Is your vehicle ready for winter?
  • secondly - be informed - have you checked the latest traffic and weather updates?

Following experiences over the last four winters the agency has a good story to tell. It has a fleet of more than 500 winter vehicles for treating motorways and major ‘A’ roads around the clock to help keep the strategic network open under all but the most extreme of circumstances.

However, when sudden spells of very severe weather – in particular, heavy snowfalls - coincide with periods of heavy traffic, it is not always possible to prevent congestion and delays.

Therefore it’s vital that road users – heavy goods vehicle (HGV) and car drivers alike - give our fleet and contractors the space to do their jobs when there are bouts of severe weather, so that they can treat the roads quickly in order to minimise disruption.

Road users should also make the checking of travel information updates a habit before deciding to travel, and to be prepared for their journey or even delay it in the worst of conditions.


To conclude, I appreciate the significant efforts that have been made this year across all transport modes to boost our resilience and preparedness for possible severe winter weather.

However we must not become complacent. We all should remain alert to ensure that we can tackle any severe winter weather that we may encounter this winter season.

Thank you for watching and enjoy the conference.

Published 19 September 2013