It will have to get closer to freezing point before Lancashire's roads are gritted this winter
Lancashire's roads will be gritted only once temperatures are forecast to dip to half a degree above freezing or colder this winter.
Until now, gritters have taken to the streets when surfaces are expected to fall to anything below one degree celsius.
But highways bosses say the accuracy of weather forecasts means that Lancashire County Council is currently being too “pessimistic” in choosing to grit when it might not be necessary.
Putting the proposal before the authority’s cabinet, member for highways, Keith Iddon, admitted the subject had “caused a lot of debate”.
But he added: “With modern forecasting, you can [accurately predict temperatures] in any area - even in valleys and on hilltops.”
Papers presented to the meeting showed that almost 900 gritting treatments could have been avoided over the past two years if a half a degree rule had been in place.
The proposal is expected to save the Conservative-run authority over Â£100,000 per year.
But deputy leader of the Labour opposition, John Fillis condemned a “straightforward cut”. He said: “When you look at your track record, it hasn’t been perfect - no matter how accurate the forecasts have been. We didn’t predict last year that it was going to be the worst winter for many years.
“This is just another cut to road safety,” he added.
County Cllr Iddon rejected that claim and said: “I’m quite happy we can use modern technology efficiently to save money. All the gritters are still there and the same amount of grit will be used.”
He also moved to address concerns raised at a recent meeting of the council’s internal scrutiny committee that it would be too late for gritting lorries to do their work if they were not sent out until temperatures had hit half a degree.
“We’re not like the RAF, we don’t scramble when the bell rings,” County Cllr Iddon said. “Once we know in the afternoon that the temperature is going to drop to half a degree, the vehicles turn out to grit.”
The plan was voted through by cabinet and had also been approved by a task group of councillors set up to investigate the issue.
But papers presented to the cabinet meeting reveal that it is not without risk.
Concerns include the possibility of inaccurate forecasts and a lower margin of error. However the report says the final decision about whether to grit rests with an officer who can deviate from the plan if they believe the situation on the ground will be worse than predicted.
Council leader Geoff Driver told the meeting that last year’s winter maintenance budget was “grossly overspent” because of the harsh conditions. He said that showed the council would always “do whatever was necessary...to ensure the safety of Lancashire residents on the roads”.
The standalone councils which look after the roads in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen will continue to grit at temperatures below one degree. But several councils elsewhere in the country do not send their gritters out until a temperature of freezing has been forecast.