Saturday, 9 January 2010

Up Grit Creek

Councils are spreading grit more thinly in a bid to eke out supplies while they wait for much-needed deliveries of rock salt to combat a second day of ice and snow in southern England.

Harrow council in north-west London described the grit supply situation as "pretty outrageous".
The local authority spread about 40 tonnes around the borough last night, leaving it with 510 tonnes - not enough for four days of full gritting. The deputy council leader, Susan Hall, said: "We have been prudent in our use of salt and kept 129km (80 miles) of main roads in Harrow clear since the cold snap began. "We have 510 tonnes of salt left, and we are spreading it at a lighter rate precisely to make stocks last. "We had ordered 1,000 tonnes of extra salt for this month at the end of 2009 but the supplier has so far not come up with it. "We'll do what we can but, if salt suppliers don't honour their obligations, it doesn't leave us much room for manoeuvre. It's pretty outrageous really."

Although the bosses of the UK's rock salt mines usually decide which councils to prioritise over others, the government yesterday re-implemented Salt Cell – a group set up after the severe weather last February. The committee, which is made up of the Cabinet Office civil contingencies secretariat, Department for Transport, Highways Agency, Local Government Association and the Communities and Local Government Department, decides who needs supplies the most.

It seems that with supplies running low, the government has found another way of nationalising an industry without calling it nationalisation. If its a good idea, then why not just do it?

Meanwhile in Scotland, snowed under councils will have to hold out until the weekend for more grit to arrive by sea as conditions worsen on Scotland’s roads.

This comes as the head of the AA for the UK has said that the supply chain is “creaking at the seams” despite government assurances that there is no issue with stocks. A spokesman for Cory Brothers Shipping Agency said that their vessels had been working flat out to handle the demand from local authorities. He said: “There is another delivery due, which will hopefully come in over the weekend.“The order is in – the ship’s not been allocated yet, but it will be carrying around 3400 tonnes. “This is the only way that the grit can get up here really. “Otherwise you’d have to have 40 or 50 trucks on the road and in these conditions, they wouldn’t get through anyway.” With ice and slush covering many of the roads in Scotland, the grit is now critical to keeping Scotland’s roads open, as fears of a food supply crisis are looming.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said that the supply chain of salt and grit is “creaking at the seams”, as imports from Egypt had to be brought into the UK yesterday. He said: “We have to keep the main transport routes across the country in operation. “Even if the temperatures are making it less effective, it is still absolutely worthwhile the councils carrying on. “And I think there are certainly issues with the supplies. “There are only two salt mines in England; one in Cheshire and one in the north east. “The Cheshire salt mine can supply 30,000 tonnes per week, which is 50 per cent of stocks for the UK. “The Tees mine may be 25 per cent, and there’s another in Northern Ireland. “The source is not endless, but you’ve also got logistical problems like having to ship it around the UK. “For example a 44 tonne truck can only take 30 tonnes of salt. “And as we saw today supplies have been coming in from Egypt, so there’s no doubt the supply chain is creaking at the seams.”

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