Wayne Holt, Executive Director at leading Structural and Civil Engineering design consultancy Design2e, examines whether Britain could cope better with cold weather – and whether we as a population could do anything to ease the huge strain on local authorities.
There is nothing which gets this country talking more than the weather.
Whether it’s too hot, too cold, too windy or just a bit…dull, whatever the weather everyone has an opinion.
This last seven days it has been impossible to ignore ‘The Beast from the East’. With dramatically low temperatures and bone-chilling winds, it will go down in folklore like the still-talked-about blistering summer of 1976.
Cars were stranded for hours on end on motorways, flights were grounded and trains cancelled.
The strain on our cash-strapped local authorities was enormous as they battled to keep our roads useable.
But does it really have to be like this? Is it fair to expect our infrastructure to be able to cope better? Are there things we could be doing as a population to ease the burden?
I had the pleasure of visiting Lapland recently where it had been -30°C for the past two months. They don’t grit their roads, though they might plough them every now and again.
The difference there is the people are ready for it and they use winter tyres. I’m not talking about snow chains, just reasonably priced winter tyres with pronounced grip. In most cases the reason to swap to winter rubber was the falling snow, but as many of our continental neighbours have long known, it should have been falling temperatures: you don’t need snow to justify winter tyres.
Millions of mainland European drivers swap from summer to winter rubber between October and March, negotiating roads that might be icy, rutted with compacted snow, wet, or merely dry and cold. Confronted by widely diverse conditions, they consider winter tyres anything but a marketing ploy.
Modern winter tyres really come into their own below seven degrees C, a regular figure in Britain during winter, so whether the snowflakes descend or not, drivers here are safer on tyres specifically designed to do their stuff as the temperature plummets. To make the point, and dispel confusion, some manufacturers prefer the term ‘cold-weather tyres’.
Historically, changing tyres may have affected your insurance premium however, most insurance companies have altered their view and welcome the move to improve the grip of the vehicle and subsequent safety of the driver and their passengers.
If we adopted a similar approach and prepared our cars for the conditions, think of the money that would be saved on gritting and how that could, in turn, be reinvested into highway maintenance and improvements.
It’s no secret that public money is tight at the moment and Local Authorities have to prioritise which roads to grit based on how often they are used, how close they are to schools and other such considerations.
Most Local Authorities have a Winter Service Plan which outlines their strategy of both prioritising and maintaining their highways and infrastructure during adverse weather. This is a document which is available to the public if requested.
Maintaining the highways and footways during adverse weather conditions is a costly, time consuming and as such expensive exercise from pre-salting, to clearance and maintaining access. The entire exercise is reliant upon local authority staff working very long hours in adverse weather conditions.
By adopting the techniques of our European and Scandinavian neighbours this Winter Service Plan could be adapted to focus upon primary routes and the savings made directed into highways maintenance overall.
Naturally, to adopt this stance would affect every UK driver, most of whom are not experienced in driving a vehicle in these conditions, but this cultural change would certainly provide greater confidence and ability to a country of drivers which are already considered some of the safest in the world.
We at Design2e have a strong record of saving our clients huge sums through innovative design solutions. This is a simple way we could all help to save public money for the benefit of all.