Sunderland and Durham ready for the big freeze - if it returns

Strawberry Bank in Sunderland last winter.
Strawberry Bank in Sunderland last winter.
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AN action plan to keep the region’s roads moving is being put in place in readiness for abig freeze.

Some 61,000 tonnes of salt has been stockpiled to ensure Wearside and County Durham’s roads are kept as clear of ice as possible this season.

Pic by Peter Berry  13 December 2010 FILE PIC'''Gritter coming out of Rutland Street, Sunderland'bad weather, snow, snow, ice,

Pic by Peter Berry 13 December 2010 FILE PIC'''Gritter coming out of Rutland Street, Sunderland'bad weather, snow, snow, ice,

A nightmare last winter saw chaos on the roads and pavements, with blizzards and temperatures plummeting to -8.7˚C.

Sunderland Royal Hospital had to postpone some operations after emergency admissions trebled, sporting events were cancelled and schools closed, while some houses were evacuated over fears of roofs collapsing under packed snow and ice.

As part of its latest preparations to fight any new big freeze, Durham County Council has upped its order by 6,000 tonnes this year, giving it a total reserve of 46,000.

The supplies will help it treat 45 per cent of its highway network in frosty conditions, although it says it has only been able to treat 35 per cent in recent winters after a request from the Department for Transport to conserve salt.

The authority is also putting an extra 200 salt bins out in communities, adding to the 2,000 already in place and has contracted 60 farmers – 17 more than 2010 – to clear using tractor trailers, ploughs and loading shovels.

It has also put together an assessment of its snow clearance operation, which details how its frontline gritting fleet will be deployed on 45 core routes, some 21 per cent of its roads, with all to be cleared within two hours.

Meetings have been held with town and parish councils about clearing footpaths and filling salt bins, with equipment, salt and protective clothing provided.

A volunteer programme by East Durham Trust is also being extended to help the most vulnerable, with efforts under way to introduce it elsewhere in the county.

Councillor Bob Young, cabinet member for strategic environment and leisure, said: “We’ve learned a lot from our experience of the past few winters and have been working together to improve our service and road safety for people of County Durham.”

Sunderland City Council has put aside 15,000 tonnes of salt and has a budget of £875,000 for winter maintenance.

Coun James Blackburn, portfolio holder for attractive and inclusive city, 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 usage is continually monitored throughout the winter maintenance period.”

The council runs a 24-hour treatment programme during severe weather to keep the main commuter routes, including the A690 and A1231, treated, with streetscene staff also diverted to snow and ice clearing duties when required.

Twitter: @EchoEastDurham