Council budgets feel financial warmth after snow takes a winter break

Councils in Yorkshire could receive a welcome budget reprieve following months of unseasonably warm weather that have left winter reserves barely touched compared with last year.

In each of the region’s four counties, councils have reported a significant reduction in the amount of salt used to treat icy roads.

North Yorkshire County Council, which covers areas often badly affected by snow, has used only 10,000 tonnes of salt so far this winter, compared with 39,000 tonnes by early January 2011.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The council spent about £2m on salt last year.

The findings come as the Woodland Trust, which manages Nature’s Calendar – a scheme that records the changing seasons – said the first signs of spring are emerging weeks early. It already has reports of snowdrops and daffodils in bloom.

Last winter, in comparison, was one of the coldest on record and some councils stockpiled extra salt or put out more grit bins last autumn ready for another freezing winter.

So far the extra precautions have proved unnecessary. In Bradford, which has an annual budget of £1.3m for road maintenance, 4,500 tonnes of salt have been used so far this winter. At this point last year, 9,000 tonnes of salt had been spread onto the city’s roads.

Similarly in Hull, only 20 gritting runs have so far taken place, while last year there had been 57 gritting runs by early January.

A annual budget of £1.49m is reserved for winter road maintenance in Sheffield, but last year £3.7m was spent because of the harsh conditions.

Extra funds look unlikely to be needed this year, with only 6,480 out of the 23,000 tonnes of stockpiled rock salt having been used.

A North Yorkshire County Council spokesman said: “North Yorkshire County Council operates a winter service reserve fund which helps to smooth out the impact of severe or mild winters on the County Council’s annual budget.

“Over-spend on gritting due to a severe winter is drawn from the winter reserve and similarly lighter demand on the gritting service means the reserve is depleted less rapidly. Actions are taken each year as needed to maintain the reserve at a reasonable level given the more unpredictable nature of the expenditure on this service”.