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Salt of the Earth
Monday 15th December, 2008

Salt of the Earth
Mark McCartney (Contacts Manager with the council’s Highways Direct Labour Organisation), Cllr David Molyneux (Deputy Leader and Cabinet Environment Champion) and Martin Walls (Highways DLO Manager) using the laptop based gritting weather information

It’s safety first for the council’s gritting team.
There are nine vehicles on standby to distribute salt onto the borough’s primary roads. It’s their job to keep the traffic moving, and ensure essential services, including ambulances and buses, can get through.

The team have access to the latest computer weather data, which they then apply to the local road temperatures and moisture conditions all around our borough before they make the decision to grit.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” says Cllr David Molyneux, cabinet environment champion. “We all should feel a lot of pride for the team and their work – often unseen – keeping the borough safe and motoring.”

Throughout the winter months, the team receive Metrological Office data and the crews can be called in and sent out gritting within an hour of the decision. Last week, they completed a 9 hour stint, including 4 complete sweeps of the primary network – and then moved on to help snow clearance in the town centres. Decisions made can affect other council operations, such as whether it’s safe to allow heavy refuse collection wagons out onto icy residential streets.

Cllr Molyneux adds: “We’re constantly ahead of the game in Wigan. We have always gritted the roads since before it was made a statutory responsibility. The public’s safety is our top concern.”

Adding salt to the road is only effective in certain circumstances, but managers always err on the side of safety. Last week, a huge blanket of snow was forecast for the north of England, with concern about snowdrifts, school closures and the potential for long delays on the way to work.

“We took the severe weather forecast in good faith,” says Martin Walls, who manages the council’s highways operational service, “And we acted accordingly with a comprehensive programme of overnight gritting.”

The following morning, Wigan awoke to wind and rain and only a hint of snow. Martin adds: “All our grit salt was washed away in the rain, which is very frustrating and expensive.”

Martin says that even when the forecast is wrong, the work goes on. “We’d rather grit for 10 hours through the night as we did last week than risk accidents. The public’s safety is essential and just because forecasting isn’t an exact science doesn’t mean we would ever compromise safety on our roads.”

Whilst the team ensure the main routes are open, with some 800km of roads in the borough, the gritters can’t get around every estate. Boxes are provided where problems are known, and grit is always freely available from the council’s Sovereign Road depot.

This year the service has taken the decision to provide support to private businesses by selling salt bins which are delivered and filled with grit for the price of £180.00+vat. This can be arranged by contacting the council’s environmental services helpline on 01942 404364.

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