City of Edinburgh Council – Winter Weather Operations

Below is a briefing from Council Officers on snow and ice removal in Edinburgh.

Operational planning for adverse weather
The gritting of Edinburgh’s roads, footpaths and cycleways are undertaken on a priority basis – Priority 1 to 3.

In severe weather conditions, as we have recently experienced, our priority is to maintain the Priority 1 network to keep public transport, goods vehicles and emergency services moving. Thereafter Priority 2 and 3 routes are treated as resources and conditions allow. [Scott Arthur – The “priority” appears to be roads rather than footpaths or cyclepaths]

Current Situation
The weather conditions during January have been very challenging, in particular with ice and freezing rain on top of snow conditions coming from the north-east. Freezing rain is a rare occurrence and is difficult to predict. It is very challenging to treat as the ice forms very quickly after the rain and the rain can also wash off the previous precautionary treatments.

Since 1 January, the Roads Operation team, and colleagues from other services from Place Management, have worked relentlessly to keep on top of the Priority 1 network in the first instance.

They have put down around 1,250 tonnes of grit since then. By comparison in the full year of 2016/17, only 2,600 tonnes were required for the full six-month winter period. [Scott Arthur – Why just compare to 2016/17?]

It takes three to four hours for the team to cover the entire Priority 1 network following such weather. As soon as the Priority 1 network is clear and running, the teams moved on to both the Priority 2 and 3 networks as resources allow.

Treatment of the Priority 3 network was hampered by a combination of ice on top of packed snow and lower levels of vehicle movements to work in the grit and activate the rock salt. Often residents have been concerned that their estate had not been gritted when in fact it had been treated multiple times, but the grit had taken time to work though the compact snow/ice.

Through January:

  • all Priority 2 road routes were treated on three out of the five days
  • on three of these days gritters were dispatched to many of the Priority 3 routes in the higher ground areas (predominantly in the south-west).
  • in several instances, gritters were deployed to locations more than once in the same day as the team worked against the freezing ice.

Footpaths and cycleways
Footpath and cycleway tractors have been out alongside the roads gritters round the clock. They have treated several areas twice for increased effectiveness. Footpath and cycle lanes are harder to treat in these conditions as the rock salt is not activated by vehicles in the same way as it is on roads. This is further exacerbated by the freezing ice on top of the snow. Many of the issues raised by councillors have reflected these kinds of circumstances.

The teams then moved to treating local footpath areas and respond to customer reports as best as resources allow. Unfortunately, it is simply impossible to treat all the network daily as there is insufficient resource to do so. This is not unique to Edinburgh and is all local authorities have a prioritisation of roads and footpaths.

Colleagues from Street Cleansing, and Parks and Greenspaces also worked on bank holiday Monday (4 January) to treat key shopfronts, care homes and as many parks areas as possible. Colleagues from these teams also continue to help in replenishing grit bins.

Spaces for People segregated cycleways
Treatment of the segregated cycleways for Spaces for People (SfP) has also been undertaken where possible after the Priority 1 network. We secured three additional tractors to help with this work (funded by the SfP external funding allocation). These routes were also affected by the harder to treat freezing ice. [Scott Arthur – In total Edinburgh has 16 pavement tractors. It had 21 in 2013.]

Impact of lockdown and shielding requirements
Staff shielding requirements as a result of recent changes in COVID guidance have resulted in additional pressure on resources. We will of course do everything we can to maintain the service. We have re-advertised for colleagues to sign up to the winter weather rota to mitigate any risk of a significant loss of workforce over the rest of the winter period.

Overnight forecast 6-7 January
The risk of snow and ice forming is forecast again tonight by the MET Office and the gritting team is on standby throughout the night to react. However, we would advise everyone to take care moving around the city in the morning as there is a risk that surfaces of the Priority 1 network will be hazardous. 

The teams will move on to the Priority 2 and 3 networks as required in the morning (7 January) as quickly as possible and as resources allow.

Grit Bins
There are just under 3000 grit bins across Edinburgh and it takes considerable resource to replenish them following a sudden drop of snow or ice. Replenishment of the grit bins commenced over the weekend and is ongoing. We now have ten teams working on the replenishment of grit bins in priority order and they will continue to do so until they are all visited. This is in addition to those staff that are actively involved in undertaking gritting duties.

We have received several requests to site new grit bins from across the city. These will be reviewed and actioned, where appropriate, as quickly as we can. Officers need to review the suitability of locations and proximity to other grit bins and routes before decisions are made.

You can find information on the locations of existing grit bins as well as request a new bin on our website.

Online information and contact details

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