Page last updated at 18:06 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

Lord Adonis warns salt needs to be conserved

Transport Minister Sadiq Khan read Lord Adonis' statement in the Commons

Efforts to ration salt supplies will be necessary for councils to cope with continuing cold weather, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has warned.

He insisted that all main transport networks were operational during "the most prolonged spell of freezing conditions" in the UK since 1981.

But shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers accused the government of making "inadequate preparations".

Forecasters have predicted a "slow, erratic climb" out of the freeze.

There has been a slight thaw in places but more snow in parts of central England.

Roads managers say milder weather could improve safety, amid salt shortages.

'Admission of guilt'

The transport secretary told the House of Lords that extra rationing would be required from councils to preserve salt stocks.

He said the Highways Agency and local authorities had agreed to cut salt used on roads by "at least 25%".

Nick Ravenscroft
Nick Ravenscroft, BBC News, Runcorn

At this processing plant, the white piles are of salt, not snow. Diggers are perched on top, shovelling furiously. One driver told me it had been non-stop since 0700 GMT. Still the lorries queue along the road.

The company, Ineos, normally supplies salt to industry - for example, to be used in water softeners. But the shortage of the brown rock salt usually spread on roads means desperate councils are seeking alternatives.

Site manager Neil Brow predicts 600 lorries will be filled here this week - not a solution to the UK's road salt shortage, but a help.

The edible salt - it only needs drying to be fit for dinner tables - is mixed with sand to provide traction, then loaded onto gritters for spreading on roads. If the cold weather continues, the company will step up production into next week.

"Given the prolongation of the very cold weather, further measures are likely to be required to keep networks open," he added.

"These are likely to include further steps to conserve salt to ensure the Highways Agency and local authorities can manage during the severe weather."

But Ms Villiers told the Commons that ministers' call for local authorities to reduce their daily salt use by 25% was an "admission of guilt".

She said the government had "sat on the Local Government Association's report on this issue until two days before the snow started to fall and they failed to learn the lessons of February 2009".

Transport Minister Sadiq Khan accused the Tories of being "mean-spirited", adding: "We need to continue pulling together for the common good as we have done over the past weeks."

However, he said Ms Villiers was correct to raise concerns over "scaremongering" about possible litigation against people who showed "common sense and a generosity of spirit" by clearing paths and pavements.

For the Liberal Democrats, Norman Baker warned that "we could run out of salt" while waiting for fresh supplies from overseas "if the weather deteriorates".

He called for a review of the recommendation that local authorities hold a six-day supply of salt.

'Dangerously low'

Northamptonshire County Council said its salt levels were approaching "critical" levels, while Flintshire County Council said its stocks were "critically low".

Warrington council said it was due to run out of rock salt on Tuesday morning but had been assured a delivery would arrive before then.

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 cold weather, see the NHS Winter Health website

Cumbria County Council said it was supplementing its stocks with a mixture containing industrial salt while the city council in Bristol was down to just 50 tonnes.

Somerset County Council will concentrate on major roads to save salt stocks after 16 nights of continuous gritting.

The Salt Cell, which brings together agencies responsible for supplying and road salt for road gritting, is due to meet again on Tuesday.

Senior officials on the Civil Contingencies Committee met on Monday to discuss weather-related problems.

Afterwards, the prime minister's spokesman said supplies would soon be bolstered by deliveries from the US and Spain, as promised by Gordon Brown on Saturday.

Cheshire chemical company Ineos is supplying dozens of emergency lorry loads of white salt to authorities including Gloucestershire, Bradford and East Riding of Yorkshire.

Tom Foulkes, director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said salt supplies were "running dangerously low".

However, the Highways Agency insists supplies are sufficient to keep main roads open in the coming days.

Met Office warnings of snow are in place for southern and central Wales as well as south-west England.

BBC forecasters say slightly milder air from the east has brought a mix of rain, sleet and some snow across these areas, while up to 10cm (4in) of snow could fall in Yorkshire on Monday.

Philip Eden, vice-president of the Royal Meteorological Society, said: "This is the week things change. It won't be a dramatic sudden change but a long, slow, erratic climb out of the freeze."

Travellers continued to face delays:

  • Disruptions are still affecting nine rail operators - including Eurostar - albeit less severely
  • Replacement buses are operating on many train routes in Scotland
  • British Airways had to cancel some services in and out of Heathrow Airport, while Easyjet axed six Gatwick flights
  • The AA said "hazardous conditions" meant many roads remained "treacherous"
  • Part of the A66 between Cumbria and County Durham was closed because of snow, while the A628 in Derbyshire's Peak District was also shut
  • A crash closed part of the A14 near the M1 junction in Northamptonshire and an accident has caused heavy delays on the A1(M) southbound between junctions junctions 48 and 47

In Wales, about 160 schools are shut, in West Yorkshire 94 are closed, while 108 have not opened in Kent after fresh snowfall over the weekend.

However, many insist they will be open for pupils who have to sit GCSE and A-level exams.

How is the winter freeze affecting you? Are you a pupil, a parent, or a teacher? Is your local school closed? Are you worried about missing exams? Send us your comments using the form below.

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Telegraph Snow leaves thousands of motorists stranded - 4 hrs ago
Financial TimesUse of salt on roads restricted further - 18 hrs ago
Sky News Icy Roads: Gritting Cut Back To Save Salt - 24 hrs ago
The Scotsman Forecasters warn of yet more snow - 29 hrs ago
Daily Star Gritting cutbacks spark road fearsFull Story - 29 hrs ago
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