Borders council fears it will have to make cutbacks to winter service after this year

A snowplough helping keep the Beast from the East at bay in Lauder in February.
A snowplough helping keep the Beast from the East at bay in Lauder in February.

Council bosses in the Borders plan to show the same true grit this winter as last in dealing with adverse weather – but they fear lack of cash will mean they won’t be worth their salt to the same degree in years to come.

Scottish Borders Council’s winter service was tested to the limit by the snowsorm dubbed the Beast from the East in February, and officers intend to make a similar level of provision this time round.

However, the authority’s infrastructure manager, Brian Young, has warned councillors that future efforts to tackle snow and ice and keep traffic moving will need to be scaled back:

“The 2017-18 winter was significant in terms of both snow and ice, and of particular note was the prolonged length of that winter,” he told today’s meeting of the council’s executive.

“We were still getting significant snowfall in March, and road treatment continued well into April.

“In terms of the winter service plan for 2018-19, it’s very similar in terms of policy, priority routes and resource allocation.

“There are two main strands to how the council keeps the road network operating smoothly and effectively – firstly through prevention, in the form of pre-salting, and secondly through intervention, which takes place during extreme weather conditions.

“It is believed that the 2018-19 winter plan is a robust one.

“Officers will, however, continue to monitor service arrangements throughout the winter months.

“As a consequence of continuing financial restraints, it is likely that significant changes will be required to the winter 2019-20 plan.”

Adverse weather in February and March set the council’s assets and infrastructure department back an extra £1.4m, partly offset by Scottish Government funding of £401,000.

To meet the rest of that overspend, the council was forced to dip into its winter reserve, since topped up in preparation for this winter.

A spokesperson for the council said: “It is important that the council retains a sufficient adverse weather reserve within overall revenue balances to deal with periods of weather that are more severe than the norm.

“Despite late snow, the overall winter was not significantly severe.”

The council is responsible for a 1,860-mile road network, the equivalent of driving from Selkirk to Seville in southern Spain. That includes 28 primary routes, and each takes its fleet of 94 vehicles around two and a half hours to grit properly.

This year, the council has set aside £5.3m to repair roads and bridges damaged by winter weather, including £1.7m for surface-dressing and £1.3m for resurfacing and overlay works.

The council spokesperson added: “The council has vehicles ready, salt stocked and grit bins for the public to use to help keep the Borders moving.

“Members of the public can also help themselves by being informed, including signing up for SB Alert, which is free and has proved invaluable in keeping communities and businesses updated in recent winters.

“In winter weather, the council keeps the road network operating safely and effectively by pre-salting roads to reduce the effect of frost and frozen conditions and large-scale snow clearance following extreme winter conditions involving emergency actions and community resilience.”

There are currently 1,158 grit bins across the region, and 18,750 tonnes of salt are being stored by the council.