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Icy Saturday morning - but where was the grit?

(February 07, 2009)

SATURDAY morning saw motorists playing Russian roulette with their lives as ice and compacted snow led to dangerous driving conditions which closed hilly roads in Warminster.

snow walkersThe poor situation was made worse by the complete failure of the highways department to salt these roads - presumably as they are running out of rock salt and must prioritise routes.

“I made the short journey from Newport to Epping Close and back at 8.45am on Saturday and was really shocked by the ice-rink state of Portway and Portway Lane,” said Steve Dancey.

“Most of those out and about were either dog-walkers or elderly people who would have been well-advised to stay indoors.

snow newport“The lack of salt is a disgrace and there needs to be an inquiry as this sort of weather is likely to be repeated in the next few years and we need to be prepared to double the amount of salt stored.”

While Wiltshire does not have poor winters as a rule it is very badly hit in a severe winter because, believe it or not, it has the highest average height above sea level of any English county.

Between 1978 and 1983 there were  several periods of severe weather and deep snow. Between 1941 and 1947 there was a similar pattern of several severe winters and again back in Edwardian times.

In the early 1980s army snow blowers were called in to clear roads past Heytesbury and in 1947 one snow drift was so deep between Warminster and Frome that a tunnel was dug through it.

“My aunt, who was living in Sutton Veny in 1947  and still lives in Warminster, told me that it was impossible to get into Warminster for a whole month,” added Steve.

“It means we must prepare for more periods of cold weather over the next five years just in case history repeats itself - and this means doubling the storage of rock salt.

snow hill“Unfortunately I’m not so sure that the county has the space to store it all because so many highways depots have been sold off during the past 20 years to gain a capital receipt for the council.

“Even in Warminster some of the storage space available at the Bath Road depot is likely to be used to rehouse the recycling centre for an unknown length of time.”
UPDATED:  County Press release 'The extended spell of cold weather has depleted the county's salt supplies to such an extent that Wiltshire County Council will only be salting strategic routes tonight (Saturday). This is being done to preserve salt supplies to hopefully enable a more extensive salt run over Sunday/Monday morning.
The county council will continue to plough and grit when necessary, however the advice for the public is not to travel unless absolutely necessary, and assume that roads have not been treated.
Roads that are not part of the strategic routes (listed below) are extremely hazardous and additional care should be taken on these if you do have to use them.
Tonight (February 7) the council will only be salting the following roads, however it cannot be assumed these roads will not be hazardous:

A429 from Poole Keynes to M4
A350 from A4 to the county border
A30 from the county border to Wilton and on to the county border
A338 from the county border to Easton Royal to county border
A3102 from M4 to Calne
A4 across the whole county
A346 from M4 to Burbage
A345 from Salisbury to Amesbury
A360 from Stonehenge to Devizes
A361 from Southwick to the Beckhampton roundabout
A4361 from the Beckhampton roundabout to Wroughton

Devon County Council has offered 500 tons and Hampshire County Council has offered 100 tons of salt to Wiltshire to help ease the situation.

The Highways Agency will be salting the A303 and A36 trunk roads.

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