Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Sunday, 10 January 2010

Urgent salt supplies sent out as weather warnings ease

Lorry being filled with salt
A further 50 trucks are to leave Ineos on Monday

Thousands of tonnes of emergency gritting salt are being sent to hard-pressed councils around the UK as the freezing weather continues.

Chemical company Ineos has diverted 12,000 tonnes of salt, bound for food and chlorine production in Germany.

The first 50 trucks left the firm's Cheshire depot on Sunday. UK councils use about 60,000 tonnes of salt daily.

The Met Office has downgraded its severe weather warnings and now has advisories for snow and ice.

The first 50 trucks started leaving the Ineos distribution facility in Runcorn, Cheshire, on Sunday morning and a further 50 are scheduled to leave on Monday.

Ineos chief executive Harry Deans told the BBC: "We've had numerous requests from local governments and councils over the past couple of weeks.

"12,000 tonnes of road salt will not solve the problem but it should make a difference in the places most severely affected."

The initial supplies will go to councils in East Yorkshire, Pembrokeshire, Gloucestershire, Bradford, Sheffield and Fife.

Freezing conditions

Forecasters say slightly milder air has been feeding in from the east, bringing a mix of rain, sleet and some snow, with a slight thaw across parts of England and Wales.

There will be some further snow overnight, mainly across hilly parts of Wales and northern England, but any disruption is likely to be limited. Many areas will remain icy.

The Met Office says it will stay cold and windy in the week ahead, but with daytime temperatures creeping above freezing a slight thaw can be expected in most areas.

Following fears of a shortage of salt to grit the roads, local authorities agreed to cut its use by 25% in a bid to preserve supplies.

Snow at Stonehenge

The Highways Agency has stopped treating motorway hard shoulders in England and salt ordered from abroad is not due to arrive until 21 January.

The Highways Agency's David Grunwell said: "We've got sufficient supplies to treat the strategic road network at the moment given the current Met Office forecast.

"We're confident that we'll get the supplies that we need. Central government are now providing advice nationally to salt suppliers and they are advising where the priorities are greatest across the country."

The AA said it raised concerns about salt supplies with the Local Government Association (LGA) before Christmas.

Spokesman Paul Watters said councils had reduced stocks by 250,000 tonnes during the past 10 years.

The Conservatives said the decision to ration salt was "an admission of utter failure" and plans should have been made earlier.

Gas supplies

Gordon Brown has pledged the UK's gas supplies will not run out during the current cold snap, and that road salt will get to "where it is most needed".

The PM acknowledged the current "worrying and frustrating" situation but said agencies were working together to keep the public "safe and warm".

National Grid has lifted a "gas balancing alert" put in place on Saturday, after warning of a potential shortfall in supplies.

These alerts help the market to consider increasing gas supplies, and encourage electricity providers to use alternative fuels such as coal.

National Grid said the third alert was not due to the weather conditions but problems in the Norwegian gas fields. The alert was lifted at 0600 GMT on Sunday.

A spokesman said: "The market responded to the alert. More supplies came through."

Weather deaths

Charities have called for cold weather fuel payments to pensioners to be increased to prevent the death rate soaring.

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

The Red Cross has said it was having one of its busiest periods in 30 years as volunteers help the emergency services and provide assistance to people in need.

Elsewhere, a man has died after falling through ice which was covering the River Tees in Stockton.

The man, who has not been named but was in his mid-50s, was walking his dog close to the Tees Barrage on Sunday afternoon.

Twenty-six other people have died since the cold snap started, including a 90-year-old woman who froze to death in her garden near Barnsley and a woman, 42, who died after being found near shops in Newcastle.

Police are also searching for missing mountain-walker Steven Bailey, 51, from Ambleside, Cumbria. He was last seen on Tuesday in Windermere in the Lake District.

Kent Police has called in the Army to help get supplies to snow-bound homes in the county.

Easyjet has had to cancel a number of services to Geneva in Switzerland, while all its services to the Polish city of Krakow have been cancelled - due to bad weather on the continent.

British Airways has cancelled "a number" of flights on Sunday, and advises passengers to check its website before heading to the airport.

There was better news on the railways, with the Association of Train Operating Companies saying most operators had returned to normal timetables - although 10 companies continue to run revised services.


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