January 12, 2010 3:44 pm

Use of salt on roads restricted further

New restrictions on the use of salt by councils and the Highways Agency were announced on Tuesday afternoon in a move that could raise fears about safety on Britain’s frozen roads.

Lord Adonis, transport secretary, imposed a further cut of up to 25 per cent on councils’ use of salt, in addition to an earlier 25 per cent cut announced on Friday.

The decision was taken this morning at a meeting of officials, ministers and other authorities called the “salt cell”. It means that some motorists will have to drive on roads that have been gritted with only half the usual quantity of salt.

The move comes amid fears that many councils are running low on salt supplies and finding it difficult to obtain new stocks because Britain’s three manufacturers are struggling to keep pace with demand.

Although more expensive salt has been ordered from overseas, these supplies are not expected to start arriving until January 22 because they are being imported by ship.

Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the Local Government Association Transport and Regeneration Board, said the decision would mean ”tough decisions” by councils to make sure roads were kept clear.

”People should take even greater care on the road and check their council’s website for which roads are being gritted,” he said.

Although the snow has melted in parts of London and the south-east, drivers have continued to face difficult conditions on roads across the UK. The AA has warned of “hazardous conditions” and said many roads were still “treacherous”.

Lord Adonis said in a statement that it was essential to conserve salt because the freezing weather could continue for a further 10 days. Britain was enduring its worst winter conditions for 29 years, he reminded the public.

“In aggregate, these measures will need to conserve between 40 and 50 per cent compared to the levels of usage before Friday’s announcement,” he said.

“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.”

Theresa Villiers, shadow transport secretary, said the government had failed to learn the lessons of the last spell of heavy snow in February 2009.

Friday’s call for councils to reduce their daily use of salt was an “admission of guilt” by the government, she said.

Ms Villiers made her comments after Sadiq Khan, transport minister, acknowledged fresh measures were likely to be needed “to keep Britain moving’’.

The government has insisted that the Highways Agency, which has 500 salt-spreaders and snow ploughs, has successfully kept most of the major road network open.

But Tom Foulkes, director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said national salt supplies were starting to run dangerously low. He called for better contingency plans in the future.

The icy weather looks set to continue for the next few days before a slight thaw sets in towards the weekend.

Up to 15cm of snow is expected in Wales and the south-west in the next 48 hours, with up to 20cm in Scotland in the same period.

Snow and cold conditions have continued to cause problems on the trains, with many rail companies operating revised timetables and warning passengers to expect last-minute cancellations.

Eurostar was also running a restricted service and recommended that passengers cancel or postpone their journey if it was not essential.

Britain’s airports were open but passengers were warned to check with their airline before leaving home as there was still some knock-on disruption to flights.

However, teenagers across England were sitting A-level and GCSE exams as many schools reopened despite facing icy conditions.

The death toll from the cold weather has reached 29.

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