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Chaos on Britain’s Roads

The prolonged cold weather and heavy snow over the last few weeks have caused chaos on Britain’s roads. Are the current difficulties in keeping our roads open a cause for concern or evidence of a sensible cost-benefit analysis?

The media have spent a lot of time in recent weeks showing pictures and video of blocked roads and stranded motorists. In the last few days there has also been much speculation about Local Authorities running out of salt and grit (as some did in February 2009). This sustained coverage carries with it a suggestion that somebody is to blame for this state of affairs.

The key point in this debate, as in many other aspects of resilience planning, is how much resource to devote to mitigating very unlikely events. Most years the resources that Local Authorities and the Highways Agency have available to them to deal with winter weather – salt, grit, snow ploughs etc – is entirely adequate. Is the extra cost involved in increasing their holdings of these items, in order to be prepared for more extreme weather, justified?

Obviously some fairly detailed analysis is required to decide exactly how much to spend. The important point is that the best value for money will never be achieved by trying to be prepared for most extreme situations possible. I would argue that experiencing problems in dealing with winter weather every 30 years or so is actually evidence of a sensible, cost-effective approach to resilience planning.

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