Belfast council considers supplying more grit boxes
The number of grit boxes in Northern Ireland has increased by a third in almost 10 years, but the demand still outstrips supply, a Belfast City Council committee is set to hear today.
Last week's onslaught of snow during the Beast from the East storm saw many roads across the province become impassable, and others treacherous in the icy conditions.
The Department for Infrastructure is responsible for salting main through-routes carrying more than 1,500 vehicles per day. Other busy through-routes carrying more than 1,000 vehicles per day may be included if there are difficult circumstances, as well as links to small settlements by the shortest route to the main salted road.
It was revealed that it costs around £82,000 to salt the 7,000km of roads on the scheduled network.
"The amount spent each year on salt depends on the severity of the winter weather. This can be treated several times in a 24-hour period in periods of very severe weather," a department spokesman said.
"So far this year 97,000 tonnes of salt have been spread on our roads and a further 50,000 tonnes are stockpiled and ready for use."
The department also installs salt bins - traditionally referred to as grit boxes - throughout the province.
But Belfast City Council's People and Communities committee is set to hear at a meeting today that the demand from communities, through their elected members, for access to grit "far outweighs" what is available in the department's grit boxes.
The council provides grit at a number of distribution points across the city, and is now considering what more it can do.
The committee is due to spend thousands of pounds installing grit boxes at 18 points across the city and the situation will be monitored over the next winter period.
The committee minutes say it costs around £1,710 to supply 30 bags of grit. Supplying 30 bags to each of the 18 venues would cost more than £30,000.
However, the bags have been assessed as difficult to handle due to their weight, and for next winter the committee is considering installing two grit boxes at each of the 18 venues.
This proposal is priced at £4,300. There will also be a recurring cost of £1,800 per fill.
It has been proposed that the number of times the boxes are replenished is limited to four.
Meanwhile a spokesman for the Department for Infrastructure revealed that it has increased the number of salt bins installed across the province since the winter of 2009/10.
"On roads not included on the salted network, the department has provided around 5,000 salt bins and 50,000 salt piles on public roads for community self-help," he said. "Salt bins are put out for use during the winter season from October to April. The number of salt bins has increased by 1,500 from the winter of 2009/10 when there were 3500 salt boxes.
"Salt bins were fully stocked in preparation for the poor weather conditions and the department will endeavour to restock these as quickly as possible, for as long as required."
When asked how a community qualifies for a salt bin, the department spokesman said it assesses a number of criteria.
"When considering requests for the provision of a salt bin, officials carry out an evaluation using a criteria based system which takes into account various factors including topography, traffic volumes, road gradient and geometry, alternative routes, and also considers factors such as residential usage and community facilities including schools and care homes for the elderly," he said.
"The department believes that the criteria used provides a fair and equitable balance, serving those most in need."