Page last updated at 09:09 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Why doesn't Scotland grind to a halt when it snows?

By Paul Deal
BBC News

Richard Guest in high vis jacket in Inverness
We plan for the worst and hope it won't happen
Richard Guest, Highland Council

Richard Guest looks out of his office window in Inverness and notes that there is snow in the air.

With a job like his you have to take more than a passing interest in the weather.

Mr Guest has to deal with the worst that winter can throw at the Scottish Highlands.

To help him he has 600 people, a fleet of gritting lorries and 60,000 tonnes of salt piled high in depots around the region.

Richard Guest is head of roads and community works at the Highland Council. And he's a man with a plan.

Smart ideas

"When snow is forecast our first priority is to treat main roads from 0600. Next we turn to bus routes. Then we do urban streets and school bus routes. And we aim to get them all covered by 0900.

"After that we do everything else, with difficult and steep routes being treated before the rest.

"And if it keeps snowing, we'll go back and treat all the roads during the day until 2100.

"On the first day of snow we aim to grit all of the region's roads."

And that's a lot of roads. Highland Council is responsible for 4,200 miles (6,700 km) of highways and byways.

The council has some smart ideas to get to grips with the weather.

Mr Guest said: "Some of our gritters take their lorries home with them at night so that they don't get stranded the next morning.

Highland Council snowplough in action
The Highland Council has a fleet of 114 snowploughs which grit the roads

"They use the same radio system as the police. So, if an officer wants to speak to his local gritter he can switch to the same radio network.

"Our gritting crews operate from local depots and they will know the bus operators.

"We make sure that we clear the route up to the bus depot entrances and we also ensure that places like hospitals and fire and ambulance stations are kept clear.

Mini tractors

"When we have snow or ice we switch our street cleaners and council gardeners to gritting pavements. That gives us an additional 200 or so people to keep our pavements safe and clear.

"We have a fleet of mini tractors which we use for grass cutting in the summer.

"In the winter we take off the blades and fit a snow plough at the front and a small gritter box at the back. The machines are narrow enough to get around lamp-posts on the pavements.

Area is the same size as Wales and Belgium
Covers 33% of Scotland's land mass
Includes Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis
Stretches from Dunnet Head in the north to Dalwhinnie in the south and from Ardnamurchan in the west to Auldearn in the east
Has a population of 219,400
Source: The Highland Council

"Last weekend we had temperatures down to -8C (17.6F). But it didn't cause any disruption. The buses and trains were running and planes were taking off and landing at Inverness.

"I can only once remember a train getting stuck and that was in appalling weather a few years back.

"The train was caught in a snowdrift of about 5 or 6 ft (1.5m to 1.8m) in Sutherland. We had to use one of our snowploughs to clear a path for the rescuers to get the passengers out."

Quite amused

Mr Guest sympathises with politicians in cities such as London: "We frequently get bad weather so it is worth investing in plant and salt. They must decide whether to buy a new gritter or, say, hire a dozen home helps.

"And heavy traffic is a big problem for them when it snows, whereas our roads are free-flowing."

But he does sense that people in Scotland are "quite amused" when they see that London and surrounding counties have ground to a halt after a relatively small flurry of snow.

So, does he have any advice to offer? "Yes, move north. We've got things sorted - and we have a better lifestyle."

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