Swann gets guarantees to combat winter weather

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Local MLA Robin Swann says he has secured ‘cast iron guarantees’ from Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy that he has sufficient resources to combat the impending winter weather.

Mr Swann secured the pledges during Ministerial questions in the Stormont Chamber when he sought details of resources available to cope with predicted inclement weather conditions.

Mr Kennedy responded: “The southerly position of the jet stream will pull colder Arctic air over the United Kingdom. There is the prospect of up to 10 cm of snow tomorrow, even at some lower levels. On higher ground, there is the risk of strong winds causing drifting and even blizzards.

“I have been advised that commuters and travellers are likely to face winter hazards. Therefore, my available fleet of over 120 gritters is available to salt the 7,000 kilometres - 4,300 miles - of main roads in just over three hours, which is a massive logistical exercise that costs over £80,000 each time.

“Almost 51,000 tons of salt have been used so far this season. At the same point last year, just over 35,000 tons had been used. That is the forecast, but I hope that we will not see the full impact of the Arctic polar vortex,” Minister Kennedy said.

He also confirmed that a full winter service will be available in North Antrim in the coming days, in response to a further query from Mr Swann.

“North Antrim and the Ballymena area are mainly salted from the Ballykeel and Ballymoney depots. During the current season, Ballykeel has carried out 56 actions and used 2,834 tonnes of salt,” the Minister said.

“Salting actions take two to three and a half hours to complete, so there is always a possibility that a journey will start or end on an untreated section.

“Rapidly changing weather patterns also presented particular challenges for officials, with snow, sleet, hail and rain showers, interspersed with freezing and thawing conditions, sometimes compromising the effect of the salt and giving rise to the possibility of icy stretches.

“So far this year, an estimated £4·5 million has been spent on the winter service programme. At the same point last year, some £3·7 million had been spent,” he said.