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Why hasn’t my road been gritted?

We will, as far as reasonably possible, keep the primary highway network free of ice and snow at all times, to help ensure a safe journey for all commuters but it is not feasible to grit every road across the borough – our efforts have to be concentrated on areas that will benefit the most people. See Gritting routes

If it snows for a long period of time, the snow will stick onto a road, even though we may have already gritted it.

Where are all the gritters?

Gritting usually takes place late at night, or very early in the morning, and is timed to ensure the primary gritting network is treated before road surface temperatures fall below zero.

Who makes the decision to grit the roads and how?

Throughout the winter season, The Highway Maintenance Team operates a winter service duty rota that provides 24/7 cover to monitor weather conditions and make appropriate decisions. Officers are trained to interpret information provided by a specialist winter weather forecasting bureau that provides data throughout the winter season.

The forecast, received on a daily basis, gives predictions of the possibility of freezing road temperatures, snow etc, and the time those conditions may occur. Other live data is received from weather stations in the Oldham area including air and road temperatures, rainfall and road moisture, cloud cover and wind direction all of which is monitored 24 hours a day during the winter maintenance season.

How do we grit the roads?

We use 10mm crushed rock salt to melt ice or prevent it from forming on the roads during winter and this is spread onto the road using purpose-built gritters. The spreaders at the rear of the gritters are designed to give an even distribution of salt across the road and spread the salt at a controlled rate. The gritting vehicles also have fittings which enable a snowplough to be fitted when needed.

Salt must be spread onto the road surface before the road becomes icy or snow starts to fall and this is known as precautionary salting. We aim for the gritters to set off at least 3 hours before sub-zero temperatures or snowy weather is forecast to arrive.

Every effort is made to avoid the need to treat the network during peak traffic periods as the gritters can become delayed in traffic and can get stuck along with the cars, buses and lorries they are trying to help. 

How can road users help?

There is clearly a responsibility on every one of us to drive with care, especially during winter weather. You may be travelling on a road that is not part of a main gritting route or you may be on a road before it has been treated. If this is the case, slow down.

Salt spreading does not make roads completely safe; a common misconception is that rock salt will immediately disperse ice and snow and that the roads are then safe to use normally. This is not the case as traffic flows are needed to work the salt into the road surface for it to be totally effective. This takes time to achieve.

The Met Office issues regular forecasts and each night on TV and radio, warnings may be given of likely adverse road conditions - Pay attention to any warnings and set your alarm earlier to allow more time for your journey. If the weather is forecast to be really severe think about whether your journey is really necessary.

Watch out for tell-tale signs, like frost on the car and icy puddles they mean that the roads may be slippery. Watch out for shady places or areas beneath overhanging trees as sudden changes in surface condition can easily occur.

Wait for your windscreen to clear before driving off an icy screen is no better than driving in thick fog! Accelerate and brake more gently when in wet or icy conditions and brake before reaching a bend, not on it.

Will salt melt snow?

No. Salt doesn't directly melt snow as it firstly has to mix with the snow to form a saline solution and lower the melting point. If snow is predicted, salt is spread in advance so when the first snow falls it can start to mix with salt to create a saline solution which can reduce the build up (accumulation) of snow and prevent the formation of ice.

However in prolonged periods of snowfall the snow can fall at a rate faster than the salt can mix with the snow which means the snow may accumulate. Accumulated snow will have to be ploughed away from the roads, but this is made much easier by salt spread in advance of the snowfall as the salt already applied reduces the likelihood of the snow freezing on the surface.

Why don’t we invest in better winter equipment?

Greater Manchester only experiences snow a couple of times throughout the year. This means investing in the infrastructure and equipment, which would make it easier to cope with snow (i.e. heated runways, fancier snow ploughs) – would be extremely expensive and massively under used.

There is no cost benefit of investing millions of pounds to avoid occasional disruption unlike other countries that have much colder and snowy climates.

How can I find out about school or road closures?

Follow us on Twitter @OldhamAlert / @OldhamCouncil

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Why do we only grit certain footpaths?

Widespread footway gritting is labour intensive and is not automatically done. It takes considerable time and ice/frost lasting only for short periods could not be treated before temperatures rise enough to melt naturally. Only where persistent snow or ice appears do we endeavour to grit other footways on a reactive basis.

During snow conditions Oldham Council salts footways in the main district centres and where there are higher volumes of pedestrians.

Salting every single footway is simply not feasible – our efforts have to be concentrated on areas that will benefit the most people.

Am I liable if I clear the pavement and someone slips?

If someone fell on a path you had cleared it is very unlikely that you would face any legal liability, as long as you are careful, and use common sense to ensure that you do not make the pavement or pathway clearly more dangerous than before.

We don’t have a grit bin, can we get one?

Where new grit bins are requested we will provide them if they meet our set criteria.  You can request a new grit bin here: 

Do you have enough salt stockpiled for winter?

Yes, we have over 6,000 tonnes in stock and continually restock salt throughout the winter, as and when it is required.

I’ve heard it can be too cold to grit?

Temperatures would not stop us gritting but if the temperature drops below -6 degrees it is less effective. There are large fluctuations between day and night time temperatures; we aim not to over salt so we monitor residual salt values.

What is the difference between our climate and that of Scandinavia/Canada?

The British climate is usually quite wet and relatively warm; when it comes to winter our climate is milder in comparison to places like Scandinavia or Canada.

As a result, winter solutions that have been developed in those countries wouldn’t work in the UK because our weather just isn’t as severe.

A good example of this is winter tyres or studs. These are much more widely used in Scandinavia and Canada and often compulsory, whereas most drivers in the UK use standard tyres as snow conditions are not regular enough to warrant the additional cost.

Could we be better prepared like Scandinavian/Canada appear to be?

No two snow events are the same, and the closer to melting point the temperature is the more variable and tricky the snow can be.  Unlike places well-versed in coping with snow, the UK rarely has extended periods of cold with snow that freezes the ground causing the snow to stay around. 

So when snow falls, it usually lands on warmer ground or ground pre-treated with grit and at least some of the snow melts straight away. This combination of a little snow mixed with water creates the slushy conditions that appear not to have been treated. So in some ways the milder the climate is the harder it is to deal with than more extreme weather in other countries.