A Winter’s Tale of Greater Resilience
Alasdair Stables, Tarmac's South East operations director, explains why under-used materials could be utilized strategically to make salt stocks go further this winter
Winter 2009/10 was the coldest and most prolonged winter in 30 years. Like the preceding winter, it was characterized by a shortage of rock salt, which resulted in an extremely testing period for local authority highway departments.
David Quarmby’s final report as part of his Winter Resilience Review acknowledges the scale of these challenges and makes recommendations on how the UK salt supply chain should be reconfigured.
This major paper calls for a systematic year-round process of collecting data and monitoring salt stocks to give advance warning of any issues affecting salt supplies. It also states that there is ‘more scope for sharing best practice and the fruits of research in technology, equipment and treatment methods for road salting’.
I agree with this sentiment, but I also believe that there is a need to look at other treatment methods to supplement road salt. Last winter angular quarry grit was used in some parts of the UK to provide grip on treacherous roads. In many areas suffering from heavy snowfall or prolonged freezing temperatures, this material greatly assisted with efforts to keep roads open and provided greater safety for road users.
Tarmac successfully worked with a number of local authorities to use quarry grit strategically to extend salt stocks. When Walsall Council was asked to provide some of its salt stocks to help ease problems on roads in central Birmingham, Tarmac National Contracting were able to draw upon quarry grit reserves from nearby quarries to ensure Walsall’s roads were immediately treated.
Using quarry grit is not a new approach. This widely available material was the traditional method of dealing with snow before the use of salt became commonplace. Although it does not melt ice in the same way as salt, it is ideal for providing grip on slippery surfaces. Because of this quality, it is widely used in mainland Europe, particularly in countries that experience heavy snowfall or prolonged periods of frozen ground.
Importantly, quarry grit has no adverse effect on the environment and can be recycled once the ice and snow have melted. However, local authorities need to be mindful that the material does collect in road gullies and will need to be cleaned out.
As local authorities finalize their winter service plans they have an obligation to ensure that their planning of salt stocks is robust. They must also put in place practical measures to improve salt utilization.
With the Winter Resilience Review stating that the salt supply chain is ‘fundamentally vulnerable and lacks resilience’, I believe that local authorities should use quarry grit strategically to supplement salt stocks. This material is by no means a ‘silver bullet’ to address salt shortage problems, but it is currently an under-used resource that can provide road-user safety and should be properly maximized.
Local authorities need to be able to draw upon reliable and efficient material suppliers and contractors who can provide assistance with winter service planning. Critically, they also need partners who can deploy materials such as quarry grit by using established logistics operations.
As the UK’s largest aggregate supplier, Tarmac can offer extensive local supplies of quarry grit from their network of hardstone quarries. This is combined with a leading logistics capability and a National Contracting division that has a strong track record of delivering winter maintenance support.
Improved resource efficiency should be at the heart of all highway maintenance. Winter service and the materials used are no exceptions to this rule. Now is the time to embrace proven and viable materials that can supplement salt stocks and ensure the UK’s roads are resilient without compromising user safety.