Help look out for the vulnerable during big freeze, councils urge

People are being urged to ensure vulnerable friends, neighbours and relatives are safe when the big freeze bites, with a high chance of snow and ice in parts of the country.


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People are being urged to ensure vulnerable friends, neighbours and relatives are safe when the big freeze bites, with a high chance of snow and ice in parts of the country.

The Local Government Association is asking communities to support council teams checking in on elderly and vulnerable residents after the Met Office issued a Level 2 Cold Weather Alert for the Midlands and north of England on Friday and Saturday, with increasingly widespread overnight frosts expected. 

The severe cold weather could increase the health risks to vulnerable patients and disrupt the delivery of services, which is why councils are appealing to residents to play a part in helping to keep neighbours, friends and loved ones safe. 

Councils are prepared for the worst of winter’s freezing temperatures with 1.4 million tonnes of salt stockpiled and hi-tech gritters and street cleaning teams ready to keep roads safe. 

The LGA’s annual Winter Readiness Survey reveals how councils have prepared for the upcoming big freeze and any flooding this winter, with 94 per cent having either more salt in stock for this year, or the same level as they did last year.  

As well as an abundance of salt stockpiled, each council has an average of nine full-size gritters, alongside other equipment. 

With freezing temperatures forecast, highway teams are monitoring state-of-the-art weather forecasts with highly-trained staff on standby around the clock and some already deployed to grit thousands of miles of roads whenever temperatures plummet. 

To cope with ongoing funding pressures and limited resources, more than half (55 per cent) of councils will share salt stocks, 30 per cent will share gritting machinery, and one in five (22 per cent) plan to team up across their boundaries to send staff to key locations. 

In addition to gritting roads and clearing snow drifts, councils will be looking out for the more vulnerable members of their communities this winter. Local teams will assist the elderly and vulnerable in their communities, from delivering hot meals to carrying out emergency household repairs and providing heating.  

Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s Transport spokesman, said: “As always, council teams spend the winter months checking in on elderly and vulnerable residents to make sure they are well and coping, and we encourage communities to spare a bit of time looking out for each other. This could be a simple knock at the door to check on an elderly neighbour, or helping to carry out emergency repairs, because everyone has a role to play to keep each other safe this winter. 

“Councils are well prepared for the onset of winter and the sharp drop in temperatures, with 1.4 million tonnes of salt stockpiled.  

“Despite ongoing funding pressures and competing demands on their limited resources, councils across the country have again risen to the challenge and already put measures in place to protect their residents from floods, ice, and wintry conditions.  

“Councils are constantly monitoring the weather, with up-to-the-minute reports to stay one step ahead. Depots are filled with 1.4 million tonnes of salt and gritters are ready to be deployed instantly to make sure our local roads are clear and open to our residents where possible.” 

The LGA survey, of highway council bosses across England and Wales, also finds:  

  • 72 per cent of councils will be looking to use GPS to manage gritting, to make sure the areas most affected by snow or ice are targeted.
  • Two-thirds (67 per cent) of councils will be equipping their staff with salt for street cleaners to spread on pavements. One in five (21 per cent) will use measures other than salt to treat pavements, such as liquid de-icer.
  • The vast majority of councils (80 per cent) will provide local communities with grit bins. These bins will enable residents to help themselves to salt as they need to tackle icy conditions. In addition, a quarter (26 per cent) of councils will designate flood wardens, in order to protect the most susceptible areas. 
  • Nine in 10 councils (91 per cent) are planning activity to reduce the risk of flooding on local roads as well. 71 per cent of councils plan to use “Gully Suckers” to keep gullies as clear as possible, with nearly half of these (43 per cent) equipped with GPS. 

Local authorities will be constantly updating websites and social media throughout the winter with information on weather, road conditions, school closures and gritting routes.

Case studies 

  • Hertfordshire County Council has offered community groups free salt to grit their streets to gear up for the winter. The council also offered salt to schools to help them stay open during icy weather, as well as to parish and town councils who can use their local knowledge to identify exactly where best to use the salt during severe weather. Last year about 200 local groups took advantage of the offer.
  • Luton Council has a fleet of gritters ready to salt nearly half of Luton’s roads to help prevent icy patches or snow forming – that’s more than 142 miles with about 1,400 tonnes of salt – equivalent to the weight of 325 elephants. The council also provides about 238 community salt bins at known trouble spots, such as sharp bends and steep hills, and lists the routes it salts when temperatures are below zero.
  • Leicestershire County Council has already had a pre-winter practice gritting run, after sending out its gritters when temperatures plummeted in October. The council’s 5 grit barns are stocked up with 18,500 tonnes of rock salt, while three new gritters equipped with GPS systems, will be joining the fleet this winter, taking the total number of gritters to 23. Six gritters have been fitted with the new technology. The council will also be using community snow wardens who grit paths, as well as farmers who can fit ploughs to their tractors and help the council to clear roads during deep snow. The council has a team of carers and health visitors who can reach their patients if there is prolonged heavy snowfall.
  • Sunderland City Council has 17,000 tonnes of salt stockpiled at its two depots, 15 gritters that can also be fitted with snow ploughs to treat the roads, and 36 tractors and mini-tractors that can be used for ploughing footpaths. Specialised weather forecasting that predicts estimated road surface temperatures is also available and includes two city ice prediction stations.
  • Croydon Council has a new weather forecasting system to prove the latest updates to help it keep the borough’s roads clear. A fleet of 10 gritters is available to treat the 2,329 roads across Croydon, reacting to weather reports to treat routes before temperatures start to drop. Preparations are also underway to prevent and mitigate flooding with extra checking and cleaning of gullies in high risk areas and a store of 4,000 sandbags to be deployed if necessary. 

Notes 

  1. The Met Office has tips, advice and a checklist to help communities and their residents get “Winter Weather Ready” – read more here.  
  2. The Local Government Association Research and Information team conducted a survey between the 8th and 30th October 2018 to gather information about local authorities’ plans and preparations in case of severe weather. The survey was sent to all 171 highways authorities in England and Wales in membership of the LGA. 86 councils (50 per cent) responded. All figures quoted above are based on respondent councils only. The full survey is available on request.  
  3. Find out more about councils’ winter weather response at the LGA’s severe weather online hub. 
  4. It is estimated that local authorities aimed to have 1.4 million tonnes of salt in stock at October 2018.