A NEW task force has been set up to help keep Wearside and Durham moving when bitter winter weather strikes again.
Schools were closed, workers cut-off and public services hit when heavy snow and plummeting temperatures struck for the second winter in a row last year.
Salt supplies ran worryingly low in some parts and fears ran high for residents most vulnerable to the low temperatures and slippery streets.
Now all 12 local authorities in the region have teamed up to form a new group to make sure council workforces are best-placed to deal severe conditions when they occur again this year.
Members of the North East Regional Winter Maintenance Working Group say they are committed to mutual aid if some areas find themselves worse-affected.
James Blackburn, the senior councillor responsible for transport and maintenance at Sunderland City Council, said: “Severe winter weather lasting days or weeks is not uncommon in the North East and Sunderland City Council always has robust plans in place.
“Our salt stocks have always proved to be adequate and their usage is continually monitored throughout the winter maintenance period.”
The council has stockpiled 15,000 tonnes of salt and £857,000 has been budgeted for winter maintenance.
Coun Blackburn said the council runs a 24-hour treatment programme for Wearside’s main commuter routes in times of severe weather.
“Streetscene staff are also diverted to snow and ice-clearing duties as and when required,” he said.
“Roads have priorities according to their perceived importance in the maintenance of the safe movement of highway users.
“Principal gritting routes accommodate the strategic routes. Secondary gritting routes cover both the distributory and more important local roads.”
The new North East Regional Winter Maintenance Working Group will meet regularly and members say they will put preparations in place to deal with any return of severe weather; work together to buy additional salt if stocks run low and ensure the most up-to-date methods are used to tackle problems.
They will share resources with each other in times of great need and communicate with residents and motorists across the North East.
The councils have already worked together to increase the region’s salt stocks by 55,000 tonnes.
The North East now has 145,000 tonnes at its disposal, and contingency plans are in place to source salt from anywhere in the world.
The Met Office is also working with councils to help them best prepare for any adverse weather conditions.
The agency launched its OpenRoad route-based forecast website for councils this month, with the aim of helping teams keep road networks safe this winter.
WEATHER experts have called for “a sense of reason” as predictions of another bitter winter buzz around the country.
The Met Office has criticised “colourful headlines” in the national press predicting widespread snow this month and raising expectations of an “Arctic winter”.
Met Office chief executive John Hirst said his agency was not behind the forecasts and said there was no need for alarm.
He said: “(These headlines) bear no relation to the kinds of weather that forecasters at the Met Office are currently expecting. There is no need for alarm.
“These stories do reflect our national obsession with the weather, but they can also confuse and even scare vulnerable people.
“The Met Office’s job is to provide accurate and reliable information and at this stage we see no scientific evidence to support these premature predictions.”
He added: “The fact that local authorities are stocking up on grit is no cause for alarm.”