The Winter’s Tale: To plough or not to plough?


Charles Robertson, A New Winter Approach’s Vice-Chair and Director of Winter Service Solutions, knows good winter service and isn’t afraid to keep asking questions.

“As another winter season draws to a close, winter practitioners turn to reviewing what went well and what can be improved.

This winter has been a ‘stop, start’ affair for many, punctuated with some very challenging cold periods. It was particularly challenging in areas where snow was involved, followed by freezing temperatures, creating compacted ice and the inevitable backlash from the public and media. This occurrence was widespread enough to prompt the question:

‘Whatever happened to snow ploughing?’

I’ve been fortunate to spend 22 years working in the UK winter service industry – selling salt, importing salt and in 2011 starting Winter Service Solutions. Through all that time I’ve seen a lot of positive change within winter service, which is why this winter feels frustrating.

The frustration grows as so much help, guidance and solutions are available. Rewind to 2019 and we had the publication of the National Winter Service Research Group’s Practical Guide, particularly Chapter 9 – Treatment for Snow and Ice. This excellent document, giving comprehensive guidance for winter service practitioners, supported by our commercial sector, was years in the making. It states:

‘It is impractical to spread sufficient salt to melt anything other than very thin layers of snow and ice, and ploughing (or, in certain circumstances, cutting and blowing) is the only effective way to deal with more than a few millimetres of snow.’

Go back even further, we had the Quarmby Winter Resilience Review in 2010, which references snow ploughing – we even had a review of the review!

Nothing is perfect; planning isn’t infallible; and, despite excellent forecasting, winter events can be more severe than predicted. Nonetheless, or perhaps because of this, it is important to keep asking questions.

During the periods of snowy weather this season, a cursory view across social media platforms provided numerous examples of the public’s discontent. These issues are often scrutinised and exacerbated under the local magnifying glass – ‘can’t get the kids to school, can’t get to work, roads blocked, can’t leave my village or even get home etc’.

We weren’t experiencing a ‘Beast from the East’. It was two inches of snow. However, not ploughing away even this seemingly small amount causes major issues. Relying on repeated applications of de-icing salt isn’t enough to clear lying snow. The situation is then exacerbated by persistent cold temperatures, vehicle compaction, and subsequent freezing.

At that point, it’s game over.

So, there are important questions for the authorities to ask. Did salt spreaders go out with ploughs? If not, why not? Are the drivers sufficiently trained or experienced to drive with them? If so, are the ploughs set to float, rather than contact the road surface? Is a ‘Back to Black’ (where snow is completely cleared from the network) ploughing policy observed or being considered?

Training can be addressed easily and reasonably immediately in a preseason. The policy and procedures of individual authorities may take more time to change.

The issue of floating snow ploughs is a major contributing factor, operating above the road surface and leaving snow behind. It saves on wearing out the rubber plough blades but is ineffective at removing snow.

For almost 10 years in the UK we have seen the introduction of advanced plough blades. Used successfully across many authorities in the UK (that get regular snow). These advanced Back to Black blades are designed to run in contact with the road surface, removing snow accumulations on the first pass. Manufactured with ceramic inserts, combining steel, rubber and ‘corundum’, one of the hardest materials on Earth. This combination delivers an extremely hardwearing plough blade, providing extended life, 20 times longer compared to a traditional plain rubber plough blade.

There are many, many authorities that could benefit from using these modern plough blades. We only have to look at the authorities that have been using them to see what a great success they have been.

Winter Service Solutions has conducted trials this winter using a brand new, next generation advanced snow plough. Its purpose is to deal with any already in-situ compacted/frozen snow. This new blade from Norskal retains the same features, a ceramic core encased in rubber, while adding an external sheath of Hardox 450, a wear-resilient steel. This combination allows the blade to literally bite through and clear the snow compaction, allowing the de-icing material to do its job.

If all authorities, irrespective of the number of days snow they receive, were to use their ploughs and these advanced blades, we’d avoid the vast majority of issues experienced.

I can hear the budget purse strings tightening even before finishing this sentence. However, never has there been a better ‘spend to save’ opportunity than this. Remove the snow, put less salt down, increase resilience, less time/labour cost changing traditional rubber blades, less public and commercial delays and of course fewer road incidents and crashes. All good for UK plc.

The answers are all out there; we just need to ask the right questions.”

Charles will be discussing the most effective treatments for snow and ice at the next A New Winter Approach event in Peterborough on Wednesday 17th May. Click here to view the rest of the speaker line up and register for a free ticket.

Resilience within the winter service industry

Storms, high winds, heavy rain and flooding all present unique challenges for winter maintenance teams. As a result of extreme weather events, their effects and their impacts on the UK highways network, the Department for Transport (DfT) commissioned a research report from Dr Hugh Deeming to identify any lessons that have been learned for ensuring the resilience of the highway network.

Published in 2021, Dr Deeming’s report on weather resilience in the United Kingdom highlighted the need for the UK to become more prepared for extreme weather events, such as floods and storms. It also emphasised the importance of developing contingencies for protecting the highway connections to critical infrastructure, such as power and communication networks.

The report was based on extensive research and included input from a range of highways authorities and operators who deal first hand with the impacts of extreme weather. As a result, it provides a valuable overview of the challenges faced by the UK when it comes to weather resilience.

During the research process, Dr Deeming found clear evidence that an encouraging amount of effort was being expended in collaboration with local highway authorities working to build resilience, both internally within their authorities and externally, with other authorities and responder agencies, but also with suppliers and communities through peer support networks.

These findings set the tone for Dr Deeming’s keynote address at the A New Winter Approach conference in Crewe on the 19th October, 2022, where he shared the recommendations from his report, followed by an open discussion with delegates around the challenges they faced from extreme weather and the resilience strategies implemented.

Sharing information across peer groups allows authorities to build networking communities where they learn from one another. This is one of the key aims of the A New Winter Approach events which bring the winter service industry together in regional conferences across the UK.

Dr Deeming’s report – Emergency Preparedness, Response, & Recovery: Identifying lessons learned by the UK highway sector from extreme-weather emergencies (2015-2020) – is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the impact of extreme weather on the UK. Click here to read the report


ANWA heads to Crewe

On Wednesday 19th October the A New Winter Approach team headed to Crewe to share their expertise with winter maintenance practitioners across the North of England, in the third face-to-face event since the group’s launch in 2019.

The conference began with a thought-provoking keynote speech from Dr. Hugh Deeming on the lessons learned from the sector’s experience of extreme weather between 2015-2020. Hugh discussed the findings from his DfT report and made suggestions on how its key recommendations could be used to inform and strengthen sector resilience against a changing climate – an issue that is all too real for many of the delegates in attendance.

After a lively debate following Hugh’s opening speech, the conference moved on to discuss the sustainable innovations available for the industry. ANWA’s expert panel, including representatives from Salt Sense, Winter Service Solutions and Exactrak, discussed many options for local authorities on how to embrace change and make winter maintenance operations more sustainable. With over 50 local authorities and term maintenance contractors in attendance, there were varying degrees of experience around the subject – a current hot topic in the industry – and it was encouraging to see so many experts sharing their knowledge and experience with those who attended the event.

After a coffee and networking break, weather forecasting experts, MetDesk helped the attendees better understand the – often frustrating – world of forecasting by explaining how forecast uncertainty works in the context of a risk-based approach.

A collaborative case study followed from ANWA members, Econ, Eurodome and Peacock Salt which showcased a Scottish local authority who is already benefiting from some of the latest innovations in winter road treatments. The case study provided valuable lessons for other local authorities who are looking to improve their own operations and opened up further discussions on the implementation and benefits of investing in sustainable options.

Further topics covered during the day included using data to drive decision making and designing more sustainable assets. The day ended with a networking opportunity for delegates to seek advice and guidance from the ANWA panel of experts on winter maintenance projects.

All attendees at the Crewe conference agreed the day was incredibly informative and provided valuable insights into how to make winter maintenance operations more sustainable, with 100% of attendees agreeing it was a worthwhile event.

If you missed us this year, be sure to put ANWA in your diary for next year! We’ll be announcing the dates of our roadshows in 2023 very soon, click here to register to be the first to know about our upcoming events.

Treating them carefully: Considerations for active travel schemes

With £200 million of government funding recently injected into walking and cycling schemes across England, alongside the DfT’s recent appointment of Chris Boardman as permanent National Active Travel Commissioner, active travel schemes remain high on the government’s agenda. And with good reason.

The proven health benefits of active travel schemes see millions of people across the country benefit from healthier local journeys via a boost to air quality and improved physical and mental health. Additionally, increases to the cost of living (particularly fuel costs) and a focus on climate change has seen the public seek more fuel-efficient methods of transport.

But with active travel more important than ever, local authorities have a responsibility to ensure getting around towns and cities on foot or by bike is an easy and attractive option all year round.

“For cycling and walking to become the natural choice for shorter journeys, people must feel safe and the options must be easy.” Chris Boardman

Any local authority or highways agency with segregated cycleways and pathways should have a strategy in place to treat them during the winter season. But many authorities have found a ‘one size fits all approach’ doesn’t always extend from the treatment of roads to cycle and pathways.

Charles Robertson (Winter Service Solutions) and Paddy Hastie (Peacocks Salt) share their advice on the effective treatment of active travel schemes.

Legislative requirements

Although active travel schemes form part of the highway network, authorities don’t have a legal obligation to treat them if this has been stipulated in the authorities’ winter service strategy, a common reason being with stretched budgets, treating the roads remains the priority.

Paddy comments, “The balance between economics and safety is currently a big topic of debate. And although it can be costly to properly maintain footpaths and cycleways, in doing so, Local Authorities are helping to promote Active Travel right through the year.”

Charles adds, “The amendment to the Railways and Transport Safety Act in 2003 made it clear authorities had a duty to ensure safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice. Similarly, to the 2003 amendment, the industry could soon see it become a legal requirement to treat footpaths and cycleways as they grow in popularity and are used by the public throughout the entire year.”

Treat them carefully

Before making any decisions on the most appropriate treatment methods, Paddy recommends looking at the cycleway itself. Factors including the location, if it runs through a town or village; proximity to water (as marine life needs to be considered); and if the route includes and vegetation or metal structures will all influence the vehicle and type of material used to de-ice.

The route length and any obstacles along the route (such as bollards) will also play a part in any decision making as this determines the size of vehicle and tank needed to cover the pathways.

De-icer options

The treatment of active travel schemes should not be approached the same way as roads. Unlike roads, which see a higher traffic flow, the temperature of cycleways tends to be colder. This drop in temperature is aided in many cases by vegetation which tends to grow alongside the route.

Liquid de-icers are predominantly used on active travel schemes over rock salt as the low footfall, infrequent traffic and cyclist’s thin tyres cannot provide the activation salt needs to start the de-icing process.

Sodium Chloride brine is the most cost-effective liquid de-icer, however excessive use can cause corrosion on metal structures and surfaces such as cycling stands and railings. Other liquids (such as potassium acetate) treat to much lower temperatures and last longer than a salt brine, meaning less treatments are required. However, with the price of potassium acetate recently tripling, some local authorities have adopted cost saving methods such as using two different de-icer tanks on the same vehicle to treat different sections of the same route.

Vehicle options

With the surge in popularity of active travel schemes, there number of vehicle options available. Mini tractors and flatbed pick up trucks are a popular choice as they are sturdy enough to hold de-icer treatments, but nimble enough to travel down narrow pathways.

Using vehicles for precautionary treatments is one consideration, but the vehicle’s ability to clear snow should also be considered. Mini ploughs are one option, as well as adding power brushes, which push snow to both sides of the pathway.

Although there is a shift to using electric vehicles in areas such as London where there are low emission zones, Charles predicts technology still has a way to go before electric vehicles are fully adopted by the winter maintenance industry until current limits with charging time and battery life are addressed to make these a viable option.

To download a PDF version of this article click here

Get a glimpse into the future of the winter maintenance industry

Winter maintenance professionals are fully aware of the annual struggle against snow, ice and slush. But with busy winter seasons to run, and resources stretched further than ever, it can be a challenge to keep on top of the latest industry innovations which improve winter service delivery and reduce costs. Until now…

The A New Winter Approach group was formed in 2019 with a clear mission; to create a collaborative environment where the winter maintenance industry can learn from one and other. The group’s unique event format brings together local authorities and innovative winter maintenance specialists through regional ‘roadshow’ conferences held in key locations throughout the UK. 

Innovating towards a sustainable future  

A New Winter Approach events offer delegates an insight into the future of the winter maintenance industry by bringing information and best practice advice on sustainable innovations, and networking opportunities between different stakeholders, all under one roof.

With discussion topics including the effective treatment of active travel schemes, sustainable methods to protect salt, alternative fuels for the future, and digital transformation within winter service delivery, delegates are guaranteed to leave with inspiring ideas on creating an innovative and sustainable winter maintenance strategy.

Network with industry peers

A New Winter Approach offers a fantastic opportunity to meet and interact with industry peers in a collaborative environment. Delegates can meet other professionals, share their own knowledge and experiences, learn about new technologies, or find new suppliers.

“Attending [A New Winter Approach] was a great opportunity to speak to others in similar roles and to meet some key suppliers.”

The first A New Winter Approach event, held in Central London, brought together over 50 local authorities and winter maintenance experts, with many delegates commenting on the benefits of learning first-hand how the latest developments within the industry have been implemented within other local authorities.

“I’ve never seen so many London Boroughs together in one place” Richard Hayes, Former CEO; Institute of Highway Engineers

Gain CPD points

A New Winter Approach is a Professional Development Partner with the Institute of Highway Engineers. As our events focus around knowledge sharing, all delegates can earn five hour of CPD points by attending one of our events.

Join us in Crewe

On Wednesday 19th October A New Winter Approach will be in Crewe. The event will focus on the future of winter maintenance and how it can be improved in the coming years, with regional specific topics tailored for the north of England.

The day will be packed with specialist winter maintenance service providers including Salt Sense, Winter Service Solutions, Econ, Exactrak, MetDesk, Peacocks Salt, Eurodome, and Findlay Irvine, who will be on hand to discuss the innovative solutions that will enable local authorities and term maintenance contractors to strengthen their approach to winter maintenance now and in years to come.

Spaces are free, but limited, so don’t miss out! Click here to register for your free space.

A New Winter Approach 2022 returns in-person

The UK’s leading sustainability conference for the winter service industry returns in-person on the 27th April 2022 supporting local authorities and winter maintenance experts to build an environmentally-friendly strategy in the most cost-efficient way, explore the latest technologies and solutions, and innovate collaboratively to a sustainable future.

We are delighted to announce the return of A New Winter Approach as an in-person event, giving delegates the chance to meet face-to-face and network with neighbouring authorities following two years of lockdown.

Taking place on the 27th April in South Wales, the CPD-accredited conference will bring together our team of seven industry-leading innovators to share best practice information about how to approach the winter season, while showcasing the technologies and services that can offer value and sustainability, helping the industry address some of today’s most pressing challenges.

Hear the latest best practice advice…

Following the success of the digital summit last year, the one-of-its-kind event will give delegates the chance to hear the latest best practice advice from experts on a wide array of topics, covering everything from alternative energy approaches, to maintaining legislative compliance, ways to increase winter service engagement and achieving net-zero.

Throughout the day, attendees will be able to participate in an action-packed programme, including a series of presentations, workshops, Panel Q&A sessions, and networking opportunities.

This year, we are delighted to announce our keynote speaker as Tim-Peppin, Director of Regeneration and Sustainable Development from the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA). Tim will be joining us to discuss the work of the WLGA’s Salt Network – why it was formed, what it has achieved and looking ahead to the future, including climate change and other environmental concerns, the shift in emphasis towards public transport and active travel routes, and lessons from the COVID pandemic. Special guest, David Bachelor (NWSRG Secretary) will provide an insight into what’s new at NWSRG, how the completely revised membership model facilitates greater engagement with highway authorities and how a renewed focus on research and knowledge transfer to best practice guidance will benefit the winter service sector. 

“Our conference brings the winter service industry together to understand and resolve the issues facing it. Together we will ensure local authorities and winter maintenance experts can walk away with comprehensive knowledge of the most innovative solutions to ensure efficiency and the most cost-effective ways to keep roads safe in winter.”

Charles Robertson, ANWA Vice-Chair

Building a cost-effective winter strategy…

With the UK committed to ‘net zero’ by 2050, there is increasing pressure on local authorities and winter maintenance subcontractors to become more environmentally sustainable while cutting costs.

Gritting has long been one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways for councils to keep roads safe and the economy moving through adverse weather conditions in winter; however, research has shown it has direct environmental impacts. Additionally, salt is considered a non-renewable resource, making it imperative to explore ways of mitigating these impacts and implement more eco-friendly solutions.

A New Winter Approach brings the winter maintenance industry a different type of conference, which focuses on the advantages of collaborative working and information sharing to explore the latest innovations and technologies that can help the industry to address these challenges.

“This is not to be missed if you are looking to create an innovative, environmentally sustainable winter maintenance strategy in the most cost-efficient way. The industry relies on salt, a mineral with finite availability to deliver its service, and it is crucial that tools are in place to ensure the right amount is delivered in the right place to be effective and to minimise damage to the environment. The industry also needs better data to understand the most efficient way of treating its networks, and the event will demonstrate the latest technologies, from weather forecasting to GPS routing and salt sheeting systems, that can address this.”

Alan Sheen, ANWA Chairperson

Learn from industry-leading brands…

Following the postponement of the event in 2020, last year ‘A New Winter Approach’ was delivered as a digital summit. The event brought together over 100 delegates over a week packed with free expert talks, round table discussions and panel Q&A sessions.

This year the leading sustainability conference for the winter service industry returns in-person. The event will feature a series of presentations from industry leading brands in the UK, including MetDesk, Exactrak, Econ, Winter-Service-Solutions-Ltd, Peacock-Salt, Eurodome, and Salt-Sense-Ltd – who together will share insights on how the industry can innovate to a sustainable future. View our 2022 programme here.

Our event is free to attend and is accredited by the Institute of Highways Engineers, awarding attendees 5 hours of CPD points.

Join us to receive 5 hours of CPD points!

‘A New Winter Approach’ will be taking place on the 27th April 2022 at the Coldra Court Hotel in Newport, Wales. The conference is accredited by the @Institute-of-Highway-Engineers and rewards attendees with five hours of CPD points. Attendance is free, but we have limited places available. Don’t miss the chance to join the biggest gathering of winter service industry professionals. For more information and to register, click here

We’ll see you there! 

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A New Approach to knowledge sharing

A New Approach to knowledge sharing

A New Approach to knowledge sharing

The UK’s winter service industry has undergone somewhat of a revolution over the last decade. The industry has seen a number of developments, all designed to drive sustainability – from improved forecasting and monitoring solutions, to better application and storage methods.

However, the industry in general is suffering from a knowledge gap. Many key industry practitioners have recently changed roles or retired, making it harder for local authorities, private contractors and TMCs to keep up with the latest developments.

Enter ‘A New Winter Approach’ – we’re six industry experts who have collaborated to bring a series of UK-wide roadshows to the winter maintenance industry.

Our aim for these roadshows is to showcase the latest winter maintenance innovations, while also offering a unique networking and knowledge sharing opportunity. We’ll be holding highly targeted events in specific UK regions, with each agenda set to cover specific issues experienced within each region.

Creating a sustainable winter maintenance strategy

The pressure is on local authorities to do ‘more for less’ in the current era of budget cuts, and although the industry has started looking at how to become more sustainable in order to make savings, it can be a challenge to filter through all the information available to choose the most sustainable option.

A New Winter Approach addresses these issues by specifically focussing on the innovations that will offer value and sustainability to the winter maintenance industry for many years to come.

These innovations are brought to delegates at our events through best practice examples, including applied case studies, industry trial results, and practical workshops.

Our regional workshops have a firm focus on case-study based innovation and education. They provide winter practitioners with the opportunity to learn about the application of new technologies and gives them time to network with their peers – all in one single day.

Richard Hogg, MetDesk

Collaborative working

Attending one of the A New Winter Approach events also gives the industry a unique opportunity to meet the key winter maintenance players from their local region, giving attendees the chance to network with colleagues from neighbouring councils and national highway authorities, as well as share best practice information about how they approach the winter season.

Part of this knowledge sharing takes place during an interactive Q&A session, involving a panel of experts answering questions set by the delegates themselves.

Over 50 delegates from local authorities, private contractors and TMCs attended our inaugural event in London in September 2019. Despite working in closely as neighbouring authorities, this was the first-time many people had met face-to-face, and many attendees cited the networking opportunities as one of the highlights of the day.

It’s a rare occurrence to get so many industry experts together, I’ve never seen so many London Boroughs in one room.

Richard Hayes (former Chief Executive of the Institute of Highway Engineers)

Interested in attending?

Our events are free to attend and is accredited by the Institute of Highways Engineers, awarding attendees 5 hours of CPD points.

If you would like to be added to the mailing list to be informed about our next event in Wales, or any future events, email

Who’s involved?

A New Winter Approach is a collaboration between six winter maintenance industry leaders who are passionate about creating a sustainable future; Econ, Eurodome, Exactrak, MetDesk, Peacock Salt and Winter Service Solutions.