The way Northamptonshire's roads are gritted has changed this winter - here's how it works...

The way Northamptonshire County Council grits the county's roads ahead of freezing weather has changed for this winter.

By Alastair Ulke
Thursday, 5th December 2019, 2:00 pm

In previous years, the authority's highways team used to grit all 1,000 miles of roads on its 'precautionary gritting route'. This meant that when temperatures were set to drop to 0.5C or below, gritting teams would roll out across its entire route at once.

But in its new budget for 2020/21, the county council announced it would be cutting £500,000 from its winter budget - and changes are already under way this year.

The highways team is now gritting individual routes in Northamptonshire based on weather forecasts and real-time temperature sensors.

Northamptonshire's individual roads will now be gritted based on localised weather - or within two hours if there is a cold-snap...

A council spokesman says the 'route-based forecasting system' will mean that "gritting does not take place when it’s not necessary and allows cost savings to be made".

- This winter, the council will use weather stations and sensors along Northamptonshire's roads to return temperature readings every 15 minutes and weather forecasts every hour.

- Individual roads from the precautionary network will be gritted when forecasts predict the weather will drop below 0.5C for that area.

- A team monitors the sensors from 6am to midnight from the Highways Depot and monitors it remotely between midnight and 7am.

- Should there be severe weather forecasted in advance then the temperatures are monitored from the depots 24 hours a day.

- When a change in weather is sudden or unexpected, then salting in emergency conditions should be mobilised within two hours.

The new system was put to the test last week when parts of the county were predicted to freeze and were gritted - only for a sudden cold snap to cause temperatures to plummet on other roads.The council was not able to grit these roads, leading to 11 separate accidents across the county where cars skidded off the road on black ice. The new system is reportedly also being used by a number of other counties, a pilot for the scheme was tested in Northamptonshire in the winter of 2018/19.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “The current process, rigidly based on weather forecasts, means that sometimes gritters are deployed even though weather conditions have changed and gritting isn’t necessary.

“Changing the process, so that decisions on when gritters are deployed and on which routes are made in real time, responding to current conditions, will deliver a cost saving of £500,000.

“We would always advise that drivers should never assume that a road has been gritted and should drive with caution when there has been a frost.

“Even when a road has received a gritting treatment, the salt requires activation from the movement of vehicles.

“Because a road has been gritted it does not mean that all risk of accident has been eliminated.”