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'Changes have been made' after snowfall a year ago today

Photo: Somerset County Council

It was one year ago on this day (November 21) that the West Country was subject to heavy snow.

Motorists using the A303 in Somerset and Wiltshire reported large amounts of snow swirling around as temperatures dropped to freezing point or just below.

Somerset has already seen its first snowfall of this winter, with gritting teams and slowploughs being used to combat snow within the Exmoor National Park on November 14.

The county council and Highways England have now laid out how they intend to keep the county’s roads clear and open in the event of any further inclement weather.

Somerset County Council is responsible for gritting Somerset’s road network, with the exception of the A303 and M5.

This winter around 900 miles of road - just over one-fifth of Somerset’s road network - has been included in the 'precautionary gritting network', meaning it will be salted when snow or other cold weather is forecast.

The length of roads being gritted in Somerset fell from 900 miles in the winter of 2017/18 to 720 miles in 2018/19 as a result of drastic cuts made in the council’s emergency budget in September 2018.

The new network has restored the distance to 2017/18 levels, but the whole network has been reviewed - meaning not all the same roads as before will be treated.

Major commuter routes across the county will be treated - including the A358 between Taunton and Chard, the A30 between Chard and Yeovil, and the A38 between Wellington and Bridgwater via Taunton.

A council spokesman said: "We have established plans in place for snow events, and work alongside the emergency services and partners to clear the network as quickly as possible.

"We can equip our gritters with snowploughs and also have arrangements with farmers and snowplough contractors who are employed to clear snow on our behalf.

"In 2019 these plans have already been called into action with early snowfall on Exmoor on November 14. 

"We prioritise our primary gritting network and move on to clear other roads as resources allow.”"

Highways England is responsible for the A303 and M5 through Somerset - including the precautionary salting of these routes and any repairs or maintenance which is required as a result of snow or other adverse weather conditions.

Rob Penney, network operations manager for the south west, said the agency had been working with the county council and other local authorities since April to ensure all bases have been covered.

He said: "It’s never too early to prepare for winter. We work closely with all of our local authority partners, we have been planning since April, and we have been prepared since October 1.

"Whether people are heading to friends and family or commuting to work, we care about people’s journeys - and when the wintry weather does arrive our specially trained gritter drivers will be ready to work around the clock to keep traffic moving.

"Safety is our priority and we’re asking drivers to make sure they are winter weather ready and their vehicles are also prepared for any eventuality.

"Remember, this winter, before you set out, to check your vehicle, the road conditions and the weather forecast.

"We will be taking pre-emptive action to treat our roads, but if conditions are poor, and journeys are not essential, consider waiting until the weather gets better, to ensure an improved and safer journey."

Highways England has 36 weather stations across the south west to monitor weather around the clock - including sensors on the crucial Avonmouth Bridge near Bristol.

The agency has a snow blower stationed near the Blackdown Hills ready to clear snow on the A303 between Honiton and Ilminster - one of the areas at highest risk of snow on this route.

More than 29,000 tonnes of salt has been stockpiled to deal with wintry weather, and 60 'winter treatment vehicles' can be deployed from 12 depots across the south west road network.

The agency has also issued advice for drivers braving severe winter weather - namely: stick to the main roads in the event of snow and ice, and only travel if necessary

By Daniel Mumby, local democracy reporting service

 

For more about which roads are gritted - including an interactive map - click here

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