Scotland

Scottish government outlines weather response changes

Scottish ministers have announced a series of changes to improve its response to severe winter weather, amid warnings of more heavy snow.

Extra salt and grit will be stored at key locations, while plans have been put in place to hold lorries using the roads, if the snow and ice hits.

The move came after the row over the handling of last week's severe weather which saw the busiest roads gridlocked.

The Met Office has warned of heavy snow across Scotland on Thursday and Friday.

The Scottish government announced measures to set up a new severe weather group, comprising police, trunk road operating companies, transport officials and ScotRail.

Ministers also announced a six-point action plan for coping with further problems, to:

  • Store extra salt and grit at key locations on the national trunk road network for quicker access.
  • Use traffic management resources to enable diversions where necessary.
  • Adapt vehicles, such as landscaping vehicles, for clearing snow.
  • Remove trunk road and motorway central barriers, allowing easy access to blocked or broken down vehicles if necessary.
  • Work with the police on holding, or "stacking" lorries on the roads, if conditions deteriorate, to keep traffic moving.
  • Provide blankets and other supplies to central Scotland's Trunk Road Incident Support Service.

The plans were announced as Finance Secretary John Swinney was questioned by the Scottish Parliament's transport committee.

But he warned: "We have to accept in winter weather that there will be times where its just not possible for us to function normally and do all we can to try to avoid that, but sometimes accept that services may not be able to function."

A heavy snowfall last week - which appeared to take the authorities by surprise - caused the closure of the M8, M9 and A80, as well as gridlock on many other routes across Scotland.

Thousands of vehicles were abandoned and hundreds of people were stuck in their cars overnight, while the M8 was closed for two days between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

But Jim Barton, chief road engineer with Transport Scotland, told the committee the agency would not be expected to close a major road with less than an hour of notice, in the expectation of just 50mm of snow.

And chief constable Kevin Smith, head of road policing at the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, added that such an order would have been "nigh on impossible" to implement.

"Any time you close a junction a diversion has to be put in place, so we would have just transferred the chaos on to the surface roads," he said, adding: "To have done that effectively would have required days and days of forward planning."

Lib Dem transport spokeswoman Alison McInnes said the government's latest action was "better late than never," adding: "These are all things the previous transport minister could have done."

The Tories' Jackson Carlaw, said: "Scottish Conservatives welcome these measures in so far as they go, but believe yet more reliable systems for informing the public of the prevailing facts are urgently required."

The problems led to the resignation of Stewart Stevenson as transport minister, to be replaced by Keith Brown.

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