Whenever the weather takes a turn for the worse the conditions of the roads is always a hot topic with Swindon Borough Council taking a lot of abuse on social media for their perceived lack of action with the gritting lorries.

At a cost of around £5000 for all nine of the council’s gritting vehicles and drivers to carry out a night’s operation, spreading around 25 tonnes of salt to treat all the main routes in Swindon in freezing weather, and double that when it snows, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication from the gritting team to keep our roads safe to travel.

In Swindon alone there are over 500 miles of road and with the council concentrating on the most used 200 miles it is clear why some residents wake up believing the gritting team have been safely tucked up in their beds when their local roads have been left to resemble a road expected in the fairy tale town of Arendelle.

If you believe your road is in a dangerous state and is in need of gritting you can report the road (or footpath) online and if it is deemed a high priority you can expect to see action within 24 hours.

Often the council come in for a bashing at the lack of gritting of the A419 and the M4. These ‘main trunk routes’ are the responsibility of Highways England and not that of the Borough Council.

The salt used by Swindon Borough Council is effective at preventing freezing down to -8C for up to three days, depending on conditions, and it’s less corrosive to vehicles than the salt that was used commonly by all councils in the past.

Why haven’t I seen any gritters out and about? 

Swindon Borough Council have 8 active gritting vehicles (one is kept on standby in case of breakdown) to treat the 200 miles of road. The vehicles normally start gritting at least four hours before the forecast says that the road surface temperature is to reach freezing point. If it has snowed, it’s likely that the gritters will be on the road continuously, but it may be 3 to 4 hours before they pass the same point twice as they will have to return to the depot to be refilled with salt.

When heavy snowfall occurs, the priority is to keep the strategic network open. The gritters will be concentrated on the main roads and fitted with snowploughs, meaning that estate roads may not be treated as often.

How do SBC decide gritting treatments? 

Swindon Borough Council has two forecasting weather stations, one near Blagrove Roundabout on Great Western Way and one on Marlborough Road, just outside Chiseldon. Readings of the current weather conditions are sent from both stations to our specialist Weather Forecast provider every 10 minutes. These readings produce two daily forecasts which show the forecast air temperature, road surface temperature, wind speed and rain/snow.

From this information, gritting treatments are planned. If there’s any major changes to the forecast at any time of the day, the forecaster calls the Council’s Winter Service Decision Maker to let them know. Additionally, a two to five day forecast is received daily to help us plan ahead for what gritting resources may be needed.

Why do gritters sometimes drive without spreading salt? 

Although it may look this way, the gritting vehicles we currently use are far more sophisticated than those of years gone by. The lorries now dispense the required amount of salt directly down on to the road.

However, sometimes a vehicle might not be spreading any salt if it: hasn’t reached the starting point of its treatment route; is returning to the depot to refill; or is driving over a section of road which has already been treated by a fellow driver to get to the next part of their route.

Every gritting vehicle is fitted with a GPS system which tracks its route and speed, and it’s part of the inspector’s job to make sure the lorries don’t deviate from their route. More details and a map of the routes covered by the gritters can be found here.

When do SBC decide that the plough should be used?

Contrary to popular belief, the council are unable to scrape snow ploughs along the road as this would just wear the rubber blade out within minutes. Instead the ploughs are set to run about one inch above the road surface, meaning there needs to be at least two inches of snow on the road before the ploughs are used.

How does salt prevent the formation of ice?

Salt lowers the temperature at which water freezes, helping to prevent ice or frost forming on the carriageway. However, if temperatures were to fall below -10 degrees centigrade, salt generally loses its effectiveness.

Does spreading salt on top of ice or snow melt it straight away? 

Salt will not melt ice or snow straight away. It takes time for the salt to mix with the snow and ice and melt it. However, cars driving over the snow and ice will speed up the process because it mixes the salt in faster.

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