TEMPERATURES are noticeably dropping every day and the nights have well and truly drawn in, leaving many of us fearing another treacherous ‘big freeze’.
Last winter the icy conditions were some of the worst in living memory, forcing commuters to stay at home, schools to shut for days at a time and the road network, littered with abandoned cars, to occasionally grind to a complete halt.
But spare a thought for the hardy team of workers based at the Highways Agency’s grit depot in Sandiacre, who pulled 16-hour shifts throughout the worst of the weather to make sure all the major routes in the area stayed open.
This year, a 3,500-tonne mountain of salt lies ready at the Bostock’s Lane depot – a 25 per cent increase on last year – in case the worst of the UK winter strikes again.
Highways Agency staff, including Martin Fellows, regional director for the Highways Agency, met journalists at the depot this week to talk about plans for the coming winter.
Mr Fellows said: “I am as confident as I can be but conditions can always be challenging
“This winter has been relatively mild so far but things can change very quickly, such are the vagaries of the British climate.
“We are as prepared as we can be.”
He said a further 25,000 tonnes of grit is available across the East Midlands, which is able to be moved between depots to where it is needed most, along with an extra 120,000 tonnes of ‘strategic salt’ available nationwide.
But there has been no increase to the 437 state-of-the-art salt spreaders at the Highways Agency’s disposal in the East Midlands or 23 snow blowers.
“We have a very robust fleet here in Sandiacre,” Mr Fellows explained.
“Despite the conditions last winter we kept the vast majority of the road network open.”
The Sandiacre depot covers all the major roads in the area within a two-hour radius, including the M1 from junction 30 at Bolsover into Northamptonshire, the A52 between Nottingham and Derby, the A46 in Nottinghamshire and the A38 between Derby and the M1.
Gritters Alan Bowler and Kev Newbold, both of Clay Cross, started at the depot 11 years ago.
Although they love the job, they said one of the hardest parts is putting up with abuse from fellow road users.
“We get called certain names,” explained Alan, who is no stranger to 16-hour shifts. And being given certain rude gestures, but people need to be patient – we’re doing it for them so they can get to work in the morning.”
Kev said: “It’s a very important job. If we’re not out there working at all hours the country really would be at a standstill.”
As the conditions get colder, the Government’s Roads Minister Mike Penning has urged road users to be prepared.
“The Highways Agency is is ready for winter but the experience of recent winters is that we must all play our part and be prepared.
“Not every journey is essential in severe weather but if you really must travel in the worst conditions, check your vehicle before you set out, take a severe weather emergency kit, check traffic and weather conditions and always plan your journey.”