Highways winter service plan 2023 to 2024

The Highways Act 1980, Section 41 (1A) places a duty on the council  “to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the safe passage along a highway in not endangered by snow or ice”.

The Highway Network Management Team deliver this duty with the help of our maintenance contractor Ringway Infrastructure Services (RIS).

The winter service plan involves treating the highway to:

  • prevent ice from forming (known as precautionary salting)
  • melt ice and snow already formed (known as post salting)
  • remove accumulations of snow

The plan supports the council’s approach to managing extreme weather conditions during winter. It helps to make sure the council meets its statutory duty.

Current winter service period

Monday 30 October 2023 to Sunday 14 April 2024

Service objectives

As the Highway Authority, we have a duty to make sure that, “so far as is reasonably practical,” the highway is not endangered by snow or ice.

This is not an absolute duty, given the qualification of “reasonably practical”. Delivering the service involves financial and resource challenges. It is not possible to: 

  • make sure surfaces are always kept free of ice or snow, even on the treated parts of the network
  • provide the service on all parts of the network

The council prioritises A and B class roads, as well as other busy roads in the borough, when temperatures are predicted to be low. These are known as the primary routes.

Secondary routes tend only to be treated when there is snow. This is at the discretion of the council, taking account of the resources available.

Pre-salting is carried out based on information received from the weather forecasting service.

Snow ploughs and other tools will be used to remove snow from highway surfaces when it falls and builds up, if possible. Salt will be spread to help melt the snow and to prevent ice forming.

We clear roads of snow in order of importance. We will keep giving priority to primary pre-salting routes until they are clear.

Snow ploughs cannot be used on streets containing traffic calming speed humps, cushions and tables.

When severe weather occurs efforts will be made to salt the priority footways in town centres, neighbourhood centres, and subway approaches. These areas will be cleared of snow, largely by hand, and post salted as resources allow.

Salt bins

Salt bins are provided at locations where there is a need to undertake regular spot salting of the road or footpaths. We also support 28 salt bins on behalf of the parish and town councils.

The following criteria for additional salt bins has been adopted. Both points have to be met:

  • salt bins will only be placed along roads where there is a continuous steep or hazardous gradient of at least 10% (1 in 10) and where there are buildings in regular occupation nearby
  • salt bins will not be located on a primary salting route unless intended for use on an adjoining road, which is not on the primary salting route

Requests for additional salt bins will be considered. If they meet the eligibility criteria they will be added to the network when possible.

Find out where salt bins are located

The contents of salt bins are provided for use on public roads and paths. They should not be used on private pathways or drives. Evidence of misuse of the salt may lead to the removal of the salt bin. Salt bins are periodically refilled in response to usage as resources permit.

Annual review

This plan is subject to annual review.

The review following the 2022 to 2023 winter season concluded that:

  • all routes and processes are still appropriate
  • one request for an additional salt bin will be investigated - if found to meet the set criteria will be added to the list of bins
  • applicants for new salt bin locations that do not meet the criteria should be asked to approach their town or parish council who may wish to fund a salt bin
  • due to the wear and tear inflicted on the salt bins when removing them at the end of the season, they will now be left in place
  • there may be further amendments to the town centre routes as the town centre re-development project continues.
  • the spread rates used when salting the roads have been updated to reflect the latest guidance issues by the National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG) which offers greater efficiency and is evidence based

Road hierarchy

The road hierarchy system we use in the borough is:

Category 2: Strategic route

Trunk and some principal “A” roads between primary destinations.

Routes for fast-moving, long-distance traffic with little frontage access or pedestrian traffic.

Speed limits are usually in excess of 40 mph and there are few junctions.

Pedestrian crossings are either segregated or controlled and parked vehicles are generally prohibited.

Category 3a: Main distributor

Major urban network and inter-primary links. Short to medium distance traffic.

Routes between strategic routes and linking urban centres to the strategic network with limited frontage access.

In urban areas speed limits are usually 40 mph or less, parking is restricted at peak times and there are positive measures for pedestrian safety.

Category 3b: Secondary distributor

Classified Road (B and C class) and unclassified urban bus routes carrying local traffic with frontage access and frequent junctions.

In rural areas these roads link the larger villages and HGV generators to the strategic and main distributor network.

In built-up areas these roads have 30 mph speed limits and very high levels of pedestrian activity with some crossing facilities including zebra crossings.

On-street parking is generally unrestricted except for safety reasons.

Category 4a and 4b: Other roads

Roads providing local access within and between residential and commercial areas.

Salting networks

The response time to mobilise salting lorries at any time, night or day, is 1 hour.

There are a number of roads in the borough which for various reasons are subject to wet conditions. On dry nights when temperatures drop below freezing and frost is not forecast to form on the carriageway then only the wet patches are pre-salted.

Primary salting network

The primary salting network comprises all Category 2 and 3a roads and some heavily trafficked Category 3b, 4a and 4b roads, including major bus routes.

This represents 41% of all highways in the borough. The total length of the Primary Salting Network is 208 kilometres (129 miles).

This network is covered by 3 salting routes. Each route is designed to give a target maximum treatment time of 3 hours.

View roads covered by the primary salting network

Secondary salting network

The secondary salting network comprises selected (non-primary) Category 4a and 4b residential roads, bus routes, roads leading to schools and lightly trafficked rural roads, which may become hazardous if left untreated during prolonged periods of particularly severe weather conditions.

The total length of the secondary salting network is 56 kilometres (35 miles).

The secondary salting network is covered by 2 routes. Each route is similarly designed to give a target maximum treatment time of 3 hours.

View roads covered by the secondary salting network

Other salting networks

The council has also identified a third tier of roads which, due to their particular location or gradient, will be treated as resources allow in times of snowfall.

View roads covered by the third tier salting network

In addition, other locations would be treated should resources become available and only after the primary, secondary and tertiary salting networks are deemed ‘clear’.

Resilient network

The resilient network is made up of strategic routes only. Salting of the resilient network is implemented in conditions of extreme salt shortages, or as directed by central government. When this happens, no other salting of routes takes place.

The total length of the resilient salting network is 118 kilometres (73 miles).

View roads covered by the resilient network

Footways and cycleways

Footways and cycleways are categorised as follows:

  • category 1: Main public shopping areas including neighbourhood centres
  • category 2: Medium usage routes including footways leading to local shopping centres, large schools and other essential community services/assets
  • category 3/4: Other less used footways

While footways and cycleways are not normally pre-salted, category 1 and 2 footways are treated in the same way as the secondary salting networks. These are only salted or cleared of accumulations of snow when resources allow, during particularly severe and prolonged hazardous weather conditions.

The council will redeploy available landscape operatives and in severe weather conditions other council contractor employees to clear snow from these priority footways.

View the priority footways list

Client and contractor relationship

The Term Maintenance Works Contract includes winter maintenance operations. The contractor is Ringway Infrastructure Services (RIS) until 30 September 2028.

The principal winter maintenance responsibilities are split as follows:

  • Preparation of Highways Winter Service Plan - Bracknell Forest Council
  • Road Hierarchy Priorities - Bracknell Forest Council
  • Routing (salting and snow clearance) - contractor with guidance from Bracknell Forest Council
  • Vehicles and plant - contractor
  • decision making (primary routes) - contractor (Duty Manager)
  • decision making (secondary routes and other areas) - Bracknell Forest Council (Traffic Manager or Deputy)
  • decision making (town centre first priority route) - street cleansing contractor
  • decision making (town centre second priority route) - street cleansing contractor
  • day-to-day operations - contractors with co-ordination by Bracknell Forest Council officers
  • performance monitoring - Bracknell Forest Council
  • opening of Emergency Operation Centre in severe weather - Bracknell Forest Council
  • approval to start operations in severe snow conditions - Bracknell Forest Council

Management and operational staff rotas

The council has entered into an agreement with our contractor to use their services for decision making and co-ordination of the winter maintenance operation. The contractor provides duty managers to carry out this activity in relation to the primary routes.

The council has its own Highways and Transport Division available for client duties. Duty officers are on standby for consultation for the winter period from October to April.

Duty managers are available 24 hours a day, during their duty period. During normal office hours winter service enquiries from members of the public are directed to council’s customer service centre. Contact out of hours is through Forestcare.

When on duty, each duty manager is available to make decisions regarding winter service operations on the primary salting network. The council's Traffic Manager or deputy is available for necessary consultations 24 hours a day.

Winter maintenance operation managers are also rostered during the winter season to make sure the gritting fleet is ready and to complete any necessary administration.

Plant, equipment and spread rates

The contractor is responsible for the provision and maintenance of all plant and equipment needed for the performance of this plan.

To be effective, salt must be spread evenly and at rates to suit prevailing weather conditions.

Excessive salt spreading is undesirable on both environmental and economic grounds.

To this end, spreading equipment is calibrated annually by the plant supplier and locally monthly by the contractor, and the controls marked accordingly for the spread rates agreed.

Any decision to vary this application rate or to use other materials (due to a need to conserve supplies) is a matter for the council and authority has been given to the Traffic Manager to make such changes having regard to the circumstances.

Salt needs to be stored effectively to keep it in a consistently good condition. The council invested in a properly constructed salt barn several years ago, which is deemed best practice, and we continue to service and maintain the barn. This, along with properly calibrated grit spreaders, allows for lower spread rates to keep roads safe and saves money and environmental harm.

Weather forecasts

During the winter period, the Duty Manager and officers use the ‘RoadMaster’ forecasting service provided by DTN from their UK HQ, London.  

The information received each day includes:

  • detailed 36-hour forecast
  • evening update forecast
  • site specific temperature graphs (3 sites)
  • early morning summary
  • 2 to 5/10 day forecast

In addition, radar pictures can be obtained when deemed appropriate.

24-hour forecast

A 24-hour forecast is issued throughout the day at approximately 5am, 11am and 5pm each day. The main features of this forecast are:

Alert levels (readiness colour)

This is based on the traffic light colours. The definitions are:

  • green - no snow or ice expected
  • amber - risk of snow or ice
  • red - ice, snow or drifting snow expected


This section includes the hazards causing the red or amber readiness colours as well as other weather hazards such as heavy rain, high winds or fog, which could accompany a green readiness colour.

Where possible a qualifying time is given. For example, icy patches expected after 2300 hours.

Minimum temperatures

Minimum air and road temperatures for urban and rural areas are provided.

Confidence statements

This consists of high, moderate or low confidence for each of the hazards described above, together with a qualifying statement.

For example: low confidence regarding extent of showers this evening but high regarding road temperatures falling below zero.

24 hour weather summary

This is a general summary of the forecast for the period from midday to midday.

Evening forecast

At approximately 5pm each evening, a forecast update is issued by DTN and can be viewed by the Duty Manager. If more information is required, the Duty Manager can make use of the 24 hour consultancy service provided by DTN when a discussion can be held with the duty forecaster.

Thermal mapping and ice prediction

To map and predict salting needs, a survey of around 90% of the primary salting network was carried out by Vaisala TMI Ltd. This mapping helps us to analyse pre-salting routes objectively.

The information from this thermal mapping is used alongside site specific forecasts to predict the minimum temperature of road surfaces across the road network. This allows decisions to be made not only about whether to salt or not, but whether to salt only those roads that need treatment.

There are 9 sensors placed across Berkshire. Every hour, information from these sensors records the:

  • air temperature
  • humidity
  • precipitation
  • wind speed and direction
  • road surface temperature
  • surface condition (wet or dry)
  • sun-surface temperature
  • residual salt levels

Forecasts are produced for the Berkshire unitary authorities based on this information.

Decision making

Precautionary salting of the primary network decision making is the responsibility of the duty manager.

During the winter, the duty manager:

  • is on standby
  • has an overview of prevailing conditions in Berkshire
  • has a specific responsibility for liaising directly with the DTN forecaster
  • notifies the media and other organisations of the intention or otherwise to treat the primary salting network

Using the forecast data provided, the duty manager will make their decision regarding pre-salting as appropriate.

The duty manager's decision is recorded on the weather forecasting service website message board at the time of making or amending the decision. The client is responsible for compiling or entering the distribution list on the message board.

Appropriate training is provided regularly for all duty managers with regard to forecasting techniques and the ice prediction system.

The decision to salt the secondary salting network and other areas is made by Highways and Transport Division staff.


Road de-icing salt is supplied by the contractor. The contractor must have enough salt in place by 30 September each year to meet the level of resilience recommended by recent reviews of winter service operations.

Successful road salting relies on the salt dissolving and lowering the freezing temperature of moisture. We use pre-wetted salt comprising a brine solution of 30% salt and 70% water, spread with dry salt at a ratio of 30% brine to 70% salt.

The advantage of this treatment method is that the de-icing action begins almost immediately on contact with the road surface. This in turn reduces the amount of overspill and verge dieback that can occur with the use of dry salt.

Salt bins are normally filled with salt. Footpaths may also be treated with salt or a salt and sand mix.

Snow clearing

For the purpose of this plan, there are 2 stages for snow clearing:

  • stage 1 - light falls of undisturbed accumulations of snow reaching a depth less than 10mm
  • stage 2 - moderate or heavy falls of snow exceeding 10mm 

In stage 1 and 2 conditions, snow clearing operations may be undertaken subject to available resources by the council’s contractor and landscape staff. These operations will be controlled by the Highways and Transport Division in consultation with contractors.

We aim to start clearing snow within 1 hour of an instruction being issued by the Highways and Transport Division.

Snow clearing operations will focus on primary routes first. After that, other routes will be cleared in order of priority, as resources allow. When the weather is very bad, footways and cycleways may be cleared during normal working hours, if conditions and resources allow, after the higher priority routes have been treated.

In stage 2 conditions, the council’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) may be opened and manned until conditions ease. If so, during this time, all incoming calls relating to winter maintenance operations will be directed to the EOC.

Throughout any of the stages described the council may decide to establish its own Corporate Severe Weather Management Team to oversee the response.

Media communications

It is very important to stay in touch with the news media when it snows, especially the local radio stations, BBC Radio Berkshire and Heart FM. We keep in contact with them through the council's communications and marketing office.

Thames Valley Police, BBC Radio Berkshire, Heart FM and other organisations are told by email on occasions when precautionary salting is to take place.

Information is also provided to motoring organisations, particularly during periods of snow clearance when it is essential that the travelling public are advised of current road conditions and cleared routes.