Call for a summit meeting to discuss new approaches

As the slight thaw to be followed by another freeze signals more problems for local people trying to get to school, work and the shops, Sandy Walkington, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for St Albans, has called for a fundamental rethink on the prioritisation of pavements and footways in ice and snow clearing.

“This winter’s snow should not be seen as an aberration. Increasing climate extremes will be part and parcel of overall climate change. Just as the ‘once in five hundred years’ west country floods of a couple of years ago were repeated this year, we cannot assume it will be another thirty years before the next big winter freeze.

“So we need to think hard about the problems highlighted by the current snow and ice. The Liberal Democrat opposition on Herts County Council has done a great job in highlighting the lack of overall preparation by Herts Highways. But we now need a wider discussion on whether we have the priorities right between roads and pavements.

“Elderly people in particular have been prisoners in their own homes because they dare not set foot outside their front doors for fear of slipping over and breaking something,” Sandy said. “All of us have take our lives in our hands when we walk down the street – and in a hilly town like St Albans, ‘down’ is often the right word with sloping pavements making icy conditions yet more treacherous.

“Yet the county council’s policy statement on ‘Winter Maintenance’ leaves footways as an afterthought – less than one hundred words tucked at the end of a 1500 word document. This ignores the fact that journeys start at people’s front gates.

“It is clearly not plausible for the council to clear every footway itself. But I would like to see a summit meeting called by the county council (which has overall responsibility) to bring together local councils, local voluntary groups and other interested residents to explore mechanisms for community self help.

“I can see a role for street wardens looking after street salt bins to which they could have a key if theft is a problem – either as volunteers or on a small retainer. The uniformed groups could play a part in their areas – again earning a modest contribution to their funds, when they come out to clear footways. And each and everyone of us could start from the presumption that we are responsible for the piece of pavement outside our home, provided that the county council provides the means.

“In the meantime I applaud all the community minded people who have used their own initiative to help older neighbours by salting and gritting front paths. Also Oakwood School for getting a team of parents to clear the nearby pavements and make them safe.

“None of this is rocket science. It’s not about letting the county council off. But it is how other countries manage much worse conditions by everyone working together. Not only would this release older and less able-bodied people from being imprisoned in their homes, it could be a brilliant mechanism for building community spirit.”


For more information, please call Sandy Walkington on 07802 177317

Note to Editors:

Full text of Herts Highways Winter Maintenance policy is attached – section on footways highlighted at end:

Winter Salting Routes

Winter Maintenance is co-ordinated across the county by Hertfordshire
Highways, who are on twenty-four hour standby during the season.

A fleet of fifty-seven salting lorries carry out the salting. This is
also known as ‘gritting’ or ‘spreading’ but it is actual salt which is
used to help prevent ice forming on the roads. They cover fifty-eight
different routes across the county, in priority order. Over an average
winter, they will be deployed on forty occasions, usually at night. On
every trip they treat over 42% of Hertfordshire’s entire road network,
which is approximately 2,500 km or 1,553 miles.

Which roads do we salt?

During the winter season, Hertfordshire County Council is responsible
for keeping the highways in a safe condition. At least 42% of
Hertfordshire’s roads, including bus routes, are salted when required,
which means that most people will live on or very close to a treated
route. It is unrealistic to attempt to treat all roads during cold
weather conditions. Precedence is given to an agreed network of roads on
the following priority basis. For precautionary salting purposes, only
Priority 1 and Priority 2 roads will be salted.

Priority 1

§ Primary roads

Priority 2

§ Main distributor roads

§ Secondary distributor roads

§ Roads serving industrial and shopping centres

§ Scheduled bus routes

§ One road into each village

§ Urban cycleways

Priority 3

§ Other roads with steep gradients in residential areas

§ Rural roads with poor drainage or where running or standing water is
a hazard

Priority 4

§ The remainder of the road network

How do we decide when to salt?

Hertfordshire County Council has five winter duty officers who work a
‘one week in five’ duty rota during the seven winter months. The duty
officer decides whether to salt or not. That decision applies to the
entire County, including our agents where applicable, but not motorways
and trunk roads.

The primary information used for the decision, is a specialised weather
forecast. Hertfordshire has a contracted weather forecaster, who
provides specific winter road weather forecasts for the County. The
forecaster uses current and historical information from a network of
eight roadside weather stations installed by the County Council. These
weather stations show air, ground and road surface temperatures along
with wind speed, dew point and the current concentration of salt on the
road. The decision is always made on information from the worst of these
stations, which may often be the site located on a cold bridge.

The coming night’s weather forecast is usually received at one o’clock
in the afternoon, along with a short-term two to five day preliminary
forecast. The duty officer at that time uses the available information
to decide if further decisions will be required and whether to put the
salting contractor on standby. Updated forecasts are received at nine
o’clock in the evening and two o’clock in the morning if necessary, and
the duty officer can speak to the forecaster at anytime, twenty-four
hours a day if they wish.

The duty officers have direct and constant access to information at each
of these roadside weather stations via a laptop computer and a telephone
line, as well as from the weather forecaster. They have had training as
to what weather conditions are likely to produce frost or ice
formations, and the forecaster will indicate to the duty officer the
likelihood of these occurrences for the coming days and nights.

Conditions vary across the county, and the roads are not automatically
salted every time there is a forecast of frost. Just because the general
weather forecast, i.e., what the public might hear broadcast by the
local radio or television station, can state that temperatures are
expected fall below zero degrees Celsius, it does not mean conditions
will cause ice to form on roads. There can be enough heat in the ground
to keep the roads above freezing. Conversely, temperatures may stay
above zero, but conditions may allow ice to form.

Temperatures can be considerably below zero, but if there is no moisture
present in the air then ice will not form. Moisture can be in the form
of rain, snow, dew, mist/fog or seepage from surrounding land. Salt
spread on the road lowers the freezing point of the moisture on the road
surface. Therefore, the higher the concentration of salt in the
moisture, the lower the temperature has to fall before the moisture

If conditions are right for freezing to occur, then the duty officer
will also need to consider other factors before deciding whether to
spread salt, such as the likelihood of rain, sleet or snow which may
wash away the salt. However, the most important of these is whether
there is already enough residual salt on the roads from other salt

Factors determining how much residual salt is already on the roads are:

§ local knowledge of the roads; traffic volumes, speed and type

§ length of time since the last salting and how much salt was last

§ road conditions at the time the salt was spread as salt will stick
better to a damp road with less ‘bounce off’ of the salt grains

§ whether rain or run-off might have washed some of the salt away

§ whether the salt has dried out and could have trafficked away or been
blown away

§ what indications are given by the roadside weather stations as to
concentrations of salt on the road

In addition, the duty officers have access to salting decisions made by
neighbouring highway authorities as well as the motorway and trunk road
network running through Hertfordshire so that a consistent approach can
be taken.

If all the indications are that ice may form on the highway anywhere on
our salted network, then the decision will be made to spread salt at the
appropriate spread rate and at a suitable time, usually avoiding rush
hour traffic, so that the whole of the salted network across
Hertfordshire is treated before the time that ice is predicted to form.

The people

Over the winter period, the County Council’s salting lorries and their
crews are ready to take action when called upon, whatever the time, day
or night. Teams of weather duty officers are on call twenty-four hours a
day to monitor the weather conditions, decide upon the appropriate
action and control the whole salting operation.


The effectiveness of any winter maintenance action relies on the correct
response at the right time and its subsequent completion within as short
a timeframe as possible.

The target time for reaching a decision, is three o’clock each
afternoon. This is to ensure that the salting crews are aware of any
action required before they leave their depots. At weekends, the same
target time is maintained, although crews are notified at their homes.
For the majority of occasions this time is satisfactory but there will
be instances where decisions have to be made at other times of the day
or night.

Spreading of salt is normally undertaken after the evening peak hour or
before the morning peak. Under most circumstances, frost will not occur
on the road surface until late evening or early morning.

Targets for completion of precautionary salting are defined as:

§ the maximum response time from time of decision to start of salt
journey to be one hour

§ the maximum treatment time from start of salt journey to end of salt
spreading to be two and a half hours


Treatment of snow will often be necessary in two phases. Prior to snow
falling, a precautionary salt can greatly assist the subsequent removal
of snow. Once snow has settled, removal will normally be carried out
with snowploughs. In exceptional circumstances, removal will be carried
out with snow blowers or excavators.

For light snow falls of between 2 cm and 4 cm, salting at a higher
spread rate both before and after snow falling will normally be
sufficient to melt the snow. For heavier snow falls and drifting over 4
cm in depth, snow ploughing will be necessary. In this instance, local
area office managers will determine where the greatest demand for
ploughing exists. The majority of ploughing vehicles will be deployed on
Priority 1 and Priority 2 roads until these are clear, before moving
onto the remainder of the road network.

At times of heavy snowfall, local farmers and other contractors are on
call to assist in clearing roads.


Where heavy or prolonged snowfalls accumulate on well-used footways,
arrangements will be made to clear a route for pedestrians as soon as
practicable. If freezing conditions persist, footways cleared of snow
should be given a light salting to melt the ice.

Clearance of snow from less heavily used footways will depend upon the
anticipated duration of freezing conditions. Provided the more heavily
used footways have been cleared and freezing conditions are expected to
persist, then these footways may be cleared.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.