Source ahead to ensure salt supply, experts warn

27 July 2010

Buyers at the Highways Agency will have to find overseas suppliers for quarter of a million tonnes of rock salt for use on England’s roads before winter arrives, according to an independent report published yesterday.

The government-commissioned interim report The Resilience of England's Transport Systems in Winter said that England could be more than half a million tonnes short of salt were next winter to have the same sustained snowfall as the last.

The report’s three-strong review panel, led by David Quarmby, chairman of the RAC Foundation, recommended that England imports 250,000 tonnes of salt before the cold season starts, to be stored and managed by the Highways Agency on behalf of the government. This would be available to local authorities, at a higher price to reflect import and storage costs and encourage authorities to build up their own stocks. By the end of December, it recommends salt usage and stocks should be reviewed and decisions made on whether additional supplies are required from abroad, in addition to what UK producers can supply.

The Secretary of State for the Department for Transport (DfT) Philip Hammond said: “I have instructed the Highways Agency immediately to consider how arrangements could be implemented to source a volume of imported salt to establish and manage national strategic stockpiles of up to 250,000 tonnes. In taking action to create strategic salt reserves for the 2010/11 winter season, the Highways Agency will clearly need to take account of the constraints imposed by the availability of salt from overseas and immediate storage facilities.”

A DfT spokesman said the additional procurement of rock salt would require a tendering process.

The review panel report said: “A systematic year-round process of collecting data, monitoring salt stocks and movements and disseminating the findings should be put in place by DfT”, to give advance warning of any issues affecting salt supplies.

The UK has three domestic producers of rock salt: Salt Union (SU) in Winsford, Cheshire; Cleveland Potash (CP) in Cleveland and Irish Salt Mining (ISM) on the Northern Ireland coast.

Sustained and above average snowfall from mid-December 2009 to January 2010 increased salt demand such that suppliers could not meet existing supply contracts.

The review’s final report will be published this autumn.

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