Proposals relating to Highways winter services

What is the current situation?

Hampshire County Council, as the highway authority, is responsible for looking after Hampshire’s 5,200 miles of publicly maintainable surfaced roads during the winter period, which runs from 1 October to 30 April each year. Our winter service is delivered by a third-party contractor, as part of our wider highway maintenance service.

The County Council is not responsible for maintaining motorways and some major A-roads (historically known as trunk roads), which are maintained by National Highways. We are also not responsible for maintaining ‘unadopted’ private roads, as this responsibility is held by the owners of properties which front onto such roads. As such, these parts of the road network are not included in this consultation.

By law, highway authorities must do all that is reasonably practicable to keep the publicly maintained highway free of snow and ice. It is recognised nationally that it is not reasonable to grit every single road. In Hampshire, we prioritise roads for treatment so that only the highest priority routes routinely receive salting treatments or are ploughed during snow conditions. These are known as our Priority One routes, and they are routinely treated throughout the winter season in advance of freezing conditions. They may also be treated, if necessary, continuously during a severe weather event.

We spend approximately £6.5 million each year to keep the highway network clear of snow and ice during the winter. For many years we have used an established set of criteria to define which roads we should treat to meet our statutory responsibility.

Our existing Priority One routes include:

  • all ‘A’ class roads that the County Council is responsible for (Find out more about road classification)
  • other heavily used roads
  • access roads to emergency services establishments
  • major bus routes
  • large schools
  • sites classed as locally critical infrastructure by the County Council’s Emergency Planning team

Our Priority One routes cover approximately 1,800 miles and require 44 gritting vehicles to treat which equates to approximately 35% of the road network. Priority One routes carry the majority of all traffic.

Over time, a large number of additional roads have been added to our Priority One routes that are over and above the existing criteria. At the same time there have been changes in how some of our roads are used. For example, due to travelling and commuting patterns evolving, the creation of new roads, new developments, and new schools, or due to changes to bus routes.

All current priority routes can be found using our salt routes search mapping tool.

In extreme weather conditions, and when resources are available, we also treat additional roads that are outside of our Priority One route network.

Currently, daily weather forecasts for three broad areas of Hampshire, i.e. North, Central and South, are used to decide if a particular set of routes should be treated, as well as the amount of salt to be spread. Treatment is normally carried out in advance of forecasted freezing conditions to achieve the most effective results. This is referred to as precautionary treatment. We also carry out reactive salting during prolonged freezing conditions.

Our policy detailing the priority order for road salting

More information about the winter service of highways in Hampshire

What is being proposed?

We are proposing to reduce the amount of money we spend on the County Council’s winter service each year by £1 million.

We propose to do this by reviewing and revising the criteria that we use to determine which roads should be treated as part of our Priority One network, to align with current national guidance, including guidance from the National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG) and UK Roads Liaison Group. Our review would consider:

  • all ‘A’ class roads that the County Council is responsible for
  • other main roads that have higher traffic flows at peak traffic periods
  • key public transport routes and access to public transport infrastructure
  • main access routes to:
    • towns and villages, i.e. those not served by a main road
    • large educational establishments
    • major hospitals and healthcare facilities
    • important emergency service locations
    • sites identified as critical infrastructure

On completion of the review, our Priority One route network would be updated to treat all routes that meet the revised criteria going forward. This could mean that some roads that are currently part of the Priority One route network may no longer be treated, and that some roads that are not currently part of the Priority One route network may be treated. Overall, we expect the size of the network to reduce.

Why is this being proposed?

Until a sustainable long-term national funding solution can be found to address the intense financial pressures facing not only the County Council, but also wider local government, we have no choice but to consider changing or reducing services in some areas and propose options for savings.

Reviewing the existing route selection criteria, reassessing the existing Priority One routes based on the refreshed criteria and only including routes that meet the new criteria, as well as introducing new ways of doing things would contribute towards addressing the County Council’s overall anticipated £132 million budget deficit from April 2025.

In addition, reviewing the criteria used to determine which roads would be treated would ensure decisions are aligned to current national guidance, including guidance from the National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG) and UK Roads Liaison Group. The national guidance encourages local authorities to use local knowledge and evidence to define its levels of winter service through an approach which aims to minimise risk.

How would the proposal be implemented?

If approved, we would consider current national guidance and detailed knowledge of our road network (and how it is used) to create a refreshed set of route selection criteria. We would then carefully assess our road network against this refreshed set of criteria to develop a revised set of Priority One routes. We would seek to mitigate any identified risks resulting from the changes, for example through engagement with key stakeholders such as other County Council services, local emergency planning teams and transport operators. Any changes to the route selection criteria would follow the County Council’s formal democratic approval process.

Once the refreshed route selection criteria have been formally agreed, we would then use that criteria to determine which roads would be treated as part of the revised Priority One network in the future, and which roads would no longer be included.

We would use the revised set of Priority One routes from the beginning of the winter season 2025/26 that will commence in October 2025. Where roads would no longer be treated as part of the revised Priority One routes, we would inform local road users ahead of and during the Winter 2025/26 period.

Alongside this, we would continue our business-as-usual work to improve how we deliver the winter service, for example through exploring emerging innovative technology to better understand which roads typically freeze in cold weather. This would enable us to more effectively determine which roads should be a priority for treatment using forecasts that are based on smaller areas with similar characteristics, instead of the current three broad areas of Hampshire (i.e. North, Central and South). This would help us to target treatment to where it is most needed.

What are the potential impacts?

It is expected that the change in route selection criteria and closer alignment with national guidance, as well as the resulting changes in the Priority One network, would lead to:

  • a more robust approach to delivering the winter service that is aligned to national guidance
  • a number of roads that are currently included in the Priority One network may no longer be part of a Priority One route and therefore would not be routinely treated – this could impact a small proportion of residents and road users who use these roads during the winter period, particularly those who feel less confident driving on untreated roads
  • a small number of roads that are currently not routinely treated may meet the revised route selection criteria and therefore be routinely treated as part of the Priority One network going forward
  • an overall reduction in the size of the Priority One network
  • where roads are untreated there is always an increased risk of accidents – in line with existing warning and informing practices, road users would continue to be advised to consider the road conditions when travelling during wintry conditions
  • environmental benefits from a reduction in salt usage, vehicle mileage and fuel usage

What alternatives have been considered?

There are other approaches that we could take that are not proposed at this time. In developing this proposal, we have also considered the following:

Maintain current level of service

This option is not being proposed because of the scale of the budget pressures faced by the County Council, and the legal requirement to operate within our budget limits. If we maintained current levels of service, it would put additional pressure on other statutory or critical services to deliver increased savings. Statutory services are those we are legally required to provide. This may impact levels of service in these areas and our ability to operate within our budget.

Revise our set of Priority One routes against existing criteria

This option is not being proposed as we want to ensure we would be revising our set of Priority One routes to align with current national guidance.