Page last updated at 21:29 GMT, Friday, 8 January 2010

UK braced for fresh icy blasts as road gritting cut

Frozen lake picture by Paul Delaney
Two of the largest lakes in Cumbria - Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite - have almost frozen over

Britain is bracing itself for icy blasts as the freezing weather looks set to continue over the weekend.

The forecast came as the government stepped in to conserve road-gritting stocks due to dwindling salt supplies.

The Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, said local authorities had agreed to cut salt use by 25%.

The Conservatives have said that the government's move is "an admission of utter failure" and plans should have been made earlier.

As temperatures remained at sub-zero levels, at least 24 people are believed to have died since before Christmas in weather-related incidents.

The latest are two brothers who died in hospital in Leicester after falling through the ice at Watermead Country Park.

Map showing snow across UK

Police say members of the public used ropes in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the brothers.

Forecasters say it will feel colder overnight because of an "increased wind chill" coming from Germany and Poland.

Up to 20cm (7.8in) of snow is forecast for parts of South Yorkshire and the south of London - from Essex to Brighton.

Lord Adonis announced the salt cut decision following a meeting of the "Salt Cell" - a body made up of ministers, the Highways Agency and local authorities.

Supplies of salt have been close to running out in some areas, with many councils restricting gritting to major roads.

The government has ordered salt from abroad but this is not due to arrive until 21 January.

Shadow local government and communities secretary Caroline Spelman told BBC Radio 5 live the government had failed to listen to a warning report by councils published last year on the matter.

However Lord Adonis rejected these claims.

Forecasters have warned that the freezing conditions could last at least another week.

Fresh snow

Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to several ministers and agencies about the severe weather during a ministerial meeting at the Cabinet Office and said the government was doing it all it could.

Get the latest on school closures and travel problems via your BBC Local website
Check if snow is forecast in your area at BBC Weather
Details of motorway and local road closures and public transport disruption are available at BBC Travel News
For advice on handling difficult driving conditions, see the Highways Agency website
For information about severe weather warnings, see the Met Office website
For information about staying healthy in the current cold snap, see the NHS Winter Health website

Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said there was no need to worry about energy supplies and that the situation was being closely monitored.

BBC weather forecaster Rob McElwee said snowfall of up to 3cm (1.2in) was expected elsewhere in England late Saturday and on Sunday but Scotland and Wales were not likely to see record-breaking temperatures overnight.

He said: "The wind is picking up and there will be an increased wind chill. For humans that is the big factor that will make it seem colder."

Friday saw the UK's coldest day so far when the mercury plunged to -22.3C (-8.1F) in the Highland village of Altnaharra.

The government has insisted schools should stay open "wherever reasonably practicable" during severe weather although more than 8,000 schools remained closed on Friday.

However there are fears that thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may have to wait another five months to take exam modules because of the problems caused by the weather.

Thieves using a lorry with heavy-lifting gear stole a grit bin with two tonnes of salt intended for streets and footpaths from a road in Newton Mearns outside Glasgow.

Hardy swimmers take the plunge in icy water at the Serpentine in London

Milk deliveries have also been disrupted, with tankers struggling to reach dairy farms.

Some farmers have had to dump supplies as few have large storage facilities while, in Scotland, several barn roofs have collapsed under the weight of snow.

Electricity suppliers say "a few hundred" homes in southern England are without power after 5,000 were cut off by weather-related problems on Thursday.

Fear for elderly

Andrew Harrop, head of policy at the charity Age Concern, warned that older people might feel "too frightened to venture out" because of the weather and so could become prisoners in their own home.

Travel problems persist, with passengers advised to check their flight's status before going to the airport:

  • Easyjet cancelled about 30 flights at airports including Gatwick, Liverpool, Belfast and Stansted. All airports are now open, though suffering from widespread delays
  • British Waterways said nearly 90% of its 2,200-mile (3,540-km) river and canal network had frozen solid
  • Train companies operating revised timetables include East Coast, ScotRail, First Great Western, South West Trains, Southern and Southeastern, while Eurostar is operating a restricted service until Sunday
  • Rail passengers travelling through Birmingham are warned of severe delays because of signalling problems at New Street. This affects some Virgin Trains, Arriva Trains Wales, CrossCountry, London Midland and Wrexham and Shropshire services
  • Snow and ice forced the closure of a lane of the M58 near Kirkby, Merseyside, and one in each direction on the M48 Severn Bridge Updates can be found at BBC Travel News
  • The weather is causing major disruption to the weekend's sporting programme, with football's Premier League among those affected

The RAC said its patrol teams were receiving about 1,500 calls an hour - more than twice as many as normal.

But nearly 100 businesses were forced to stop using gas by the National Grid as it tried to ration supplies after demand in the UK reached record levels.


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