Agenda Item No 10

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

Cabinet Meeting: 5 November, 2018

Report of the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services and Transport

Winter Maintenance Service - Emergency Snow Clearance

Purpose of the Report

  1. To advise Cabinet of the arrangements being progressed for emergency snow clearance and obtain necessary approvals of updated documents.

Recommendation

  1. That Cabinet notes the contents of the report and endorses the arrangements being progressed for emergency snow clearance.
  2. That Cabinet notes and approves the Council's updated Winter Service Protocol attached at Appendix B.

Reason for the Recommendation

  1. To ensure Cabinet is aware of and supports the arrangements being progressed for emergency snow clearance.
  2. To ensure that the lessons learnt from the period of heavy snowfall in March 2018 are embedded into future emergency arrangements.

Background

  1. The Council has a statutory duty under Section 41 of The Highways Act 1980 to maintain the highway in a safe condition as far as reasonably practicable. Section 111 of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 extends this duty on Local Highway Authorities to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along their local highway network is not endangered by snow or ice.
  2. Under Section 150(1) of the Highways Act 1980, there is also a requirement for the highway authority to remove an accumulation of snow, which forms an obstruction, subject to a number of factors stated in Section 150(3) of the 1980 Act.
  3. The Vale of Glamorgan's policy on Winter Maintenance is detailed in its Winter Service Manual and ensures that all roads that are subject to pre-salting are salted before the onset of ice. The Council currently pre-salts over 43% of its local highway network, and this includes A and B Class roads, main commuter routes and bus routes. In addition, during severe weather (abnormal, icy/snow conditions) a reactive salt spreading/snow clearance service is undertaken. 
  4. After snow, the Council's winter maintenance teams work to clear and plough primary salting routes in the Vale including A and B roads; main roads between towns and strategic routes; distributor roads accessing smaller towns and villages; and accesses to hospitals, fire stations and other important facilities. However, priorities are very much determined by conditions and resource is allocated on the basis of need and the details of any emergency reports received. It is not always possible to clear every road, and some roads may have to be left to thaw naturally.
  5. The Council also has a duty under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to prepare plans for civil protection and emergency situations, and this includes snow emergencies. Detailed arrangements for such eventualities are detailed within the Vale of Glamorgan Major Incident & Business Continuity Protocol with a multi-agency response to specific emergency incidents managed and coordinated by the Council's Civil Protection Unit based at the Alps depot in Wenvoe.
  6. The Council operates its Winter Maintenance service from approximately mid-October to mid-April each calendar year. A fleet of 9 purpose made gritters is available 24 hours a day with a stockpile of some 4,500 tonnes of salt stored within a purpose built covered facility at the depot. A team of experienced highway engineers provide 24 hour cover to evaluate the weather information from 6 weather stations across the Vale linked to a weather service provider to determine when pre-salting operations are required during this period.
  7. During the previous winter period the Council carried out some 70 salting treatments on the Council's local highway network and used 2,982 tonnes of salt at a cost of some £121k. This represents a total of nearly 24,000km's travelled on salting activities in 2017/18. This number of salting treatments represents nearly double the average salting treatments carried out during the winter period between 2013/14 to 2016/17.

Relevant Issues and Options

  1. In early March 2018, the Vale of Glamorgan experienced significant snowfall causing widespread and severe disruption to services and leaving many roads throughout the Vale's local highway network closed and impassable due to snow accumulations. The rural Vale were worse affected due to their topography and the general character and nature of the lanes which exacerbated the effect of drifting snow.
  2. The Council's snow emergency arrangements were implemented as explained and described above in accordance with Winter Maintenance policy. This specifically involved a well-established process and system for opening up a tactical (silver) command room in F26 at the Alps depot from which the response to the snow emergency was successfully managed and coordinated.
  3. The Council engaged directly with a number of local contractors and neighbouring councils to assist with the immediate snow clearance of roads throughout its local highway network following the snowfall. In addition, local farmers and other volunteers also assisted their local communities with snow clearance of local roads and particularly to assist those residents / communities in more isolated areas served by unclassified roads.
  4. In such emergency situations, the Council relies on the assistance of many volunteers, including farmers, who have in previous similar snow emergencies undertaken this service for free. In the present financial situation, the Council has limited funds and it is generally not affordable or practicable to pay for such assistance, particularly where no arrangements or agreement is in place to monitor work undertaken, or pay in retrospect, or where services have not been properly procured in accordance with the Council's financial procedure rules. The Council has not reimbursed local farmers or other volunteers for assistance with snow clearance during previous snow emergencies within the Vale.  However it was apparent on this latest occasion that a number of farmers used a significant amount of resources to help keep their local roads open.  It was also evident that the plant and machinery farmers had at their disposal was in some cases far superior to that available through the Council's own fleet and that of its main road highway contractor.  There were however no formal arrangements in place to engage those farmers at short notice and hence it is believed that an opportunity may have been missed which would have allowed for certain routes to have been cleared sooner.
  5. In order to ensure that any learning and improvements to the Vale of Glamorgan Council's snow emergency arrangements for future years were identified and implemented following the experience of the snow emergency incident in March 2018, the Council's Civil Protection team undertook a structured debrief session. The debrief was attended by all key staff involved with snow emergency incident and by Corporate Management Team, Heads of Service and Operational Managers. A CMT & Heads of Service Structured Debrief Report was subsequently prepared as attached at Appendix A.
  6. The Structured Debrief Report recommendations identified an action plan to ensure lessons learnt from the snow emergency incident were implemented and the most robust arrangements are in place for snow clearance in future years. The review and update of the Winter Service Manual in action point 1 is currently ongoing and dependant on the outcome of action point 2 described below. The Council's Winter Service Protocol has subsequently been updated to address action points 3 & 4 and is attached at Appendix B.
  7. To progress action point 2, an advert was prepared and placed in all editions of The GEM newspaper published on 27th September 2018 for a week.  The advert requested that local farmers who are interested in assisting the Council undertaking emergency snow clearance during the winter months, (November 2018 to March 2019), to contact the Council by 12:00 Noon on Friday 5th October 2018. A copy of the advert is attached at Appendix C. To ensure appropriate and wide dissemination of this advert in The GEM newspaper to local farmers, arrangements were also been made to signpost to the advert via the Council's general social media platforms as well as Creative Rural Communities Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  8. The Council will engage with all local farmers who respond to the abovementioned advert to compile a list of those that have appropriate and suitable plant and equipment available to enhance and supplement the Council's current winter service operation.  As part of the engagement process, the Council will assess the suitability of local farmers who respond and, as appropriate, look to agree suitable terms & conditions for use of any plant and equipment for emergency snow clearance, including where necessary equitable rates to reimburse local farmers for the use of such equipment in appropriate circumstances. The Council intends to liaise with the National Farmers Union to establish appropriate rates and prices.
  9. The Council is also progressing the procurement of a formal call off contract with local contractors for emergency snow clearance and other services through the National Procurement Service (NPS) Frameworks and Contracts to ensure that formal arrangements and competitive prices are available for plant, labour and equipment resource in accordance with the Council's financial procedure rules. This will enable any future emergencies associated with the Council's winter maintenance service, including emergency snow clearance, to be promptly and cost effectively obtained to assist in efficiently managing such incidents and reducing the impact or severity of any potential highway disruption that may occur.
  10. This will enable a matrix of contractors and local farmers to be compiled to readily identify the optimum resource available at any specific location throughout the Vale's local highway network to undertake emergency snow clearance should this be deemed necessary at any time by the winter maintenance teams and /or Civil Protection Unit.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. The gross cost of providing the winter maintenance service in 2017/18, including the costs associated with the snow emergency in March 2018 was £768k. It is estimated that the snow in early March accounted for around £150k worth of these costs.
  2. For 2017/18, the Welsh Government provided a contribution to the Vale of Glamorgan Council of £90k (from a sum paid on a pro rata basis across Wales).  This was towards assisting with the Council's costs incurred by the heavy snow in March and external income to offset the winter service costs was also received from salting to private road and car parks within Llandough Hospital of some £6.5k.
  3. The net cost to the Council of operating the winter maintenance service in 2017/18 was therefore some £671k requiring a net contribution from the Neighbourhood Services and Transport bad weather reserve of £177k.
  4. The current budget allocation to undertake the winter maintenance service in 2018/19 is £380k with Neighbourhood Services and Transport currently holding a bad weather reserve of £423k.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

  1. Climate change represents specific challenges in preparing for and managing the Council's Winter Maintenance service, specifically in relation to emergency snow clearance events. The proposed arrangements will enhance and add resilience to the Council's future winter service operations and emergency snow clearance capacity.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. The Council has a duty to maintain the Highway and remove accumulations of snow causing obstruction pursuant to the Highways Act 1980.
  2. The Council has a duty under the Civil Contingencies Act to 2004 to prepare plans for civil protection and emergency situations, including snow emergencies.

Crime and Disorder Implications

  1. There are no crime and disorder implications in respect of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. There are no equal opportunity implications to this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. A well maintained highway contributes to corporate Well-being Outcome 4: An Active and Healthy Vale and Objective 7 to Encouraging and promoting active and healthy lifestyles.

Policy Framework and Budget

  1. This report is a matter for executive decision by Cabinet.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

  1. There has been no individual Ward Member consultation on this matter as it is a Vale wide issue.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

  1. Environment and Regeneration.

Background Papers

None.

Contact Officer

Mike Clogg - Operational Manager Engineering

Officers Consulted

Committee Reports - Legal

Neighbourhood Services & Transport - Accountant

Responsible Officer:

Miles Punter - Director of Environment and Housing Services

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