Aberdeenshire residents are being reassured that despite a budget reduction, the area’s winter roads maintenance policy remains fundamentally unchanged.
Roads engineers spent the last year planning and preparing to deliver the winter roads maintenance service within the set budget for 2015/16 of £4.2million, a reduction of £1m from 2014/15.
This budget will pay for gritting, snow clearing and other work on 3,300 miles of roads and 968 miles of footway.
Processes have been reviewed and amended to ensure consistent and effective practice across the entire region, with its unique geographical challenges.
Overall labour and plant resources remain untouched, with around 210 council staff and 17 external contractors still at hand to support the winter service.
Furthermore, the council contracts around 120 local farmers to help snow clearing of minor and rural roads. This arrangement is often cited as an example of best practice among local authorities and is unaffected by the budget reduction.
Around 30,000 tonnes of salt is currently in storage at locations across Aberdeenshire and this is topped-up during the winter depending on usage. The council typically uses around 45,000 tonnes of salt each winter.
The ability to respond to extreme weather events, such as severe snowfall, remains unchanged.
The roads service will, however, only carry out emergency action between 10pm and 5.30am at the request of Police Scotland. This will normally be in support of their response to “blue light” emergencies and retains the council’s 24-hour service capability while ensuring a level of consistency.
Aberdeenshire’s primary road network will continue to be treated on a preventative basis, with gritters and ploughs sent out from 5.30am and 3pm each day when forecast conditions indicate the need.
The primary network is made up of 32 different routes and covers around 30% of Aberdeenshire’s total road network – almost 1,000 miles.
These routes are mostly ‘A’ and ‘B’ class roads and other busy commuter routes that connect Aberdeenshire’s main towns and villages.
To reduce instances of unnecessary gritting, sub-zero road temperatures need to be forecast for 48 hours before priority three roads are treated.
This does not mean the council holds off from treatment for 48 hours – if forecasts show freezing conditions persisting for at least 48 hours, these roads will be gritted as soon as treatment of priority one and two routes is complete.
The council also aims to keep priority one footways in a safe condition for pedestrians during the normal working day, accepting that this may not always be possible during storm conditions.
These footways are typically in busy urban areas, near shops, businesses, and medical and community facilities.
Chairman of the council’s Infrastructure Services Committee, Cllr David Aitchison, said: “The council is introducing minor amendments to the winter service to establish a clearer understanding of when gritting should take place on non-primary roads and footways. In other words, we are trying to avoid the situation where we are gritting roads and footways when a natural thaw is imminent.
“It is important to stress that the council’s winter policy – to reduce as far as possible the effects of adverse weather on the safe movement of people and vehicles in Aberdeenshire – has not changed. Rather, we are bringing our practices better in line with policy.”
Vice-chairman, Cllr Stephen Smith, said: “We are the second largest roads authority in Scotland and as such we have to manage expectations in terms of what’s possible within our available budget.
“To help explain to residents our winter service policy and procedure following the recent changes, we have created a Frequently Asked Questions resource which is available on our website.
“Planned and proactive treatment is at the heart of winter maintenance in Aberdeenshire and this remains the case.”
For more easy-to-access information on winter maintenance in Aberdeenshire, see the FAQ at: http://bit.ly/WinterFAQ
To report any gritting or snow clearing issues, residents can phone the council on 03456 081205 or visit: http://bit.ly/RoadFaults