Council gears up to keep Cornwall safe this winter

With the winter approaching, Cornwall’s gritters are on standby to deal with forecasts for ice and snow.

Having put together the annual winter service plan, the Council and CORMAC are reminding members of the public to make sure that they drive safely according to the road and weather conditions. 

The Council is responsible for over 7,520 kilometres (4,530 miles) of roads – one of the largest road networks in the country - ranging from principal roads to narrow country lanes.  Last year the authority spent £1million keeping Cornwall’s roads safe during the winter with the fleet of gritting lorries using 5,300 tonnes of salt on the 53 days when gritting took place. 

The authority carries out precautionary salting on 25 routes covering around 1,400 km (875 miles) of the road network, including the most heavily trafficked A and B roads in Cornwall which, between them, are responsible for around 85% of traffic movements.  On behalf of the Council, CORMAC also treats the roads to key sites such as hospitals, minor injury units, ambulance and fire stations, bus stations and secondary schools.  The routes to, and the circulatory system within, Liskeard Railway Station, St Austell Railway and Bus Station, St Ives Malakof Bus Station and Penzance Bus Station, are also included in gritting schedule as well as the roads to a further 10 health or community centres – Callington, Camborne, Falmouth, Gunnislake, Helston, Mullion, Saltash, St Keverne, Tintagel and Truro – adding a further 1,140 metres to the salting network.

The A30 from the boundary with Devon to Penzance and the A38, which are the main trunk roads through Cornwall, are the responsibility of Highways England which manages its own winter service. Highways England uses Cornwall Council’s salt barns as the base for its own gritting operations.

It takes around three hours to treat each of the Council’s 25 pre salting routes.  CORMAC staff are on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week – including Christmas Day - to enable them to respond to emergency situations at very short notice.

The salt used by the Council is provided from salt mines in Northern Ireland.  Every year the Council pre orders salt which is then stored in a number of covered barns based in highways depots throughout Cornwall. It currently has around 16,000 tonnes of salt ready for use this winter stored at seven locations across Cornwall and will, as usual, buy additional stock during the winter months if required.

Salting of roads is a precautionary treatment to reduce the freezing point of water in frosty conditions and is designed to reduce the possibility of skidding or more serious accidents.  However it is important to remember that even on pre-treated roads salting will not stop heavy snow from settling and sleet, hail and rain can cause problems with the salt being washed off the road.  It will also not prevent the formation of black ice when rain falls on sub zero roads.

“We usually aim to carry out salting before freezing occurs but Cornwall’s climate means that we are often faced with the problem of near freezing temperatures combined with showers” said Andy Stevenson, the Council’s Head of Highways. “If the salt is washed off roads which have been treated by subsequent rain, sleet or hail showers, the road surfaces are likely to freeze. We can never guarantee that roads will be free of ice and would urge all drivers to ensure that they drive according to the existing road and weather conditions.”

CORMAC staff monitor the weather conditions throughout the day and night, liaising closely with forecasters specifically employed for this task.  They also use information from 22 roadside sensors which measure road surface temperature and other factors such as salt levels, precipitation, air temperature, dew point and wind speed which is then relayed back to both the forecasters and highways staff.  This information is used to decide if and when to carry out the pre-salting treatments.

Geoff Brown, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, said “Although the Council and other agencies work hard to manage winter weather please check forecasts before you travel.

“Don’t assume a road has been treated, drive carefully and think of others – it can take up to ten times longer to stop in icy conditions so please reduce speed and keep a reasonable distance between yourself and other vehicles, look out for pedestrians and cyclists and, be especially careful on minor roads, driving according to the weather and road conditions you are experiencing – a road can be treacherously icy, especially in the morning, even if the sun is shining.

“If you find a dangerous situation on any road please – safely – let the Council know.”

This year as in previous years, the Council will be using Twitter (@CornwallCouncil) to provide information about disruptions to services such as school closures caused by the snow and ice. Information on school closures is also available on our website

You can also follow @CormacLtd on Twitter for details of when the gritters will be going out across Cornwall.