Main roads across the north could be left untreated this winter if the pandemic escalates again, council staff have been warned.
Planners in Aberdeen have outlined a “significant risk” that restrictions if there were to be a further wave of coronavirus could impact the removal of snow and ice this year, through increased staff absence and disruption to the supply of salt and grit.
The “high” financial, operational and financial risks in the roads winter maintenance plan will be put to city councillors next week.
It is feared that if the pandemic continues to hit back, councils could struggle with staffing numbers, forcing routes to go untreated.
While all efforts will be made to keep key routes open, any issues could affect the return to work for the thousands of people still to resume office-based jobs and access to the main roads that take people to schools and hospitals.
Aberdeen City Council will also go into this winter with the lowest stockpile of salt in the last four years, with 10,127 tonnes currently in depots.
In a report, technical team leader Angus Maciver warned: “Current salt stocks are greater than the total salt used in any one of the last two winters, meaning in the event of a similar winter there should be adequate supply.
“Should winter 2020/21 be a harsh winter the current salt stocks may not be adequate.
“To mitigate this risk, salt levels will be kept “topped-up” throughout the winter period.
“If, however salt supplies are restricted, treatment of non-strategic routes may have to be restricted to keep traffic flows along main roads and access to important establishment such as the main hospitals operating.”
During the last such “harsh winter” in 2017/18, more than 15,000 tonnes was spread on roads and pavements.
That winter, it cost £2.333 million, while the budget for this year is only £1.574 million, meaning if a cold snap does arrive the council could be left to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds extra.
Last year, the local authority re-categorised its most important roads, introducing gold and silver tiers within its priority one routes.
As part of his brief, Mr Maciver said if lockdown restrictions were tightened the council “as an absolute minimum” would “wish” to cover all gold routes.
He added the aim would be to also cover silver-rated roads but admitted “it is possible lockdown restrictions may limit the number of staff available to complete winter operations”.
This could leave main roads through many areas of the city – including Cove, Torry, Milltimber, Garthdee, Kincorth, Dyce, Bridge Of Don, Northfield and the West End – untreated.
Planning is already underway in the Highlands too, with no changes to policy or roads prioritisation currently.
But a spokesman warned: “Clearly, however, the delivery of the service could be impacted should there be work place absences associated with the pandemic or by further working restrictions introduced by government directive.”
Aberdeenshire Council said staff would provide an update on winter planning “as soon as we can”.
However, last week its officials told a meeting one area they “did not foresee any problems” in is the sourcing grit and salt.
Roads bosses are to up efforts to have staff take up the offer of the flu jab this year in a bid to prevent unnecessary self-isolation.
There are concerns “difficulty in distinguishing” the virus from the seasonal flu could lead to increased absence due to suspected Covid-19.
Councils across the north have been praised for beginning to draw up their plans for winter already, and for considering the “worst case scenario and its domino effect”.
Road policy head with The AA, Jack Cousens, told The P&J: “It’s commendable to see councils thinking ahead and warning there may be issues – that’s good to see this early on in the year.
“Residents would always agree that main roads across a council area, especially leading to the hospital, should be treated.
“But getting to those main roads which have been cleared is always the problem.”