Video: New highways teams are ready and waiting for icy weather to hit Suffolk this winter

Suffolk Highways winter gritting launch with Graham Newman and the Gritting Team

Suffolk Highways winter gritting launch with Graham Newman and the Gritting Team - Credit: Archant

With winter just around the corner, Suffolk’s gritting teams are preparing for what could be a challenging few months.

At present the long-range forecasts suggest the run-up to Christmas should not be too severe this year – but staff at the highways depots are ready for whatever mother nature throws at them.

And this year there are two additional challenges – it is the first year that the roads in Ipswich will be cleared by the county’s teams after Suffolk’s contract with the borough council came to and end in April.

It is also the first year that road maintenance has been in the hands of an outside operator – Kier MG won the contract to manage Suffolk’s highways and started its contract last month.

So far the county has been happy with the arrangement – there was no fanfare to mark the start of the new contract, but cabinet member for transport Graham Newman said Kier MG had passed its first test with flying colours.

“When we had the storm there were 750 calls and 500 incidents. Most of the roads were cleared by the end of the Monday, with the last being cleared by the Tuesday – that was better than many other services,” he said.

There are some significant changes this year – the number of gritters on the road will eventually fall because new vehicles are being introduced and the routes are being changed.

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By bringing Ipswich into the picture and using new vehicles, the number of routes covered by the gritters is being cut from 41 to 33.

The number of gritters will fall from 56 to 52 with 16 new vehicles joining the fleet.

Matt Riches from Kier MG said there are now 25,000 tonnes of grit in eight depots across the county – with 6,000 tonnes at the largest depot at Phoenix House on the Whitehouse industrial estate in Ipswich.

In a normal year 25,000 tonnes is enough to keep Suffolk’s roads clear, but last year’s bad weather saw 32,000 tonnes used – the stocks can quickly be topped up if the winter turns out to be particularly icy.

Mr Riches was reluctant to discuss the long-range forecast for the winter because it is notoriously unreliable, although he did say there were no signs of a particularly severe spell of weather before Christmas . . . at present!

There are about 100 drivers ready for the campaign – three for each of the routes – and if there is a particularly severe snowfall the county can call on farmers or contractors to clear the roads with tractors or earth moving equipment.