I am born and bred in the Aberystwyth area, having lived in the Pont-rhyd-y-groes area for over 30 years with my wife and 3 daughters and recently becoming a grandfather too! I take joy in being able to support and be part of the local community and am involved in a number of voluntary organisations. Back in 2010, I won the CAVO Ceredigion Volunteer award for ‘Trustee of the Year’ and have also been clerk to Ysbyty Ystwyth Community Council for 18 years.
I began my career with Ceredigion County Council back in 1989 when it was Dyfed County Council, working as a road worker within a team carrying out basic maintenance work in and around north Ceredigion. In 2003, I took on a supervisory role to oversee contracted work such as grass cutting, surfacing. I also occasionally covered as a highway inspector, a role which I secured full time in 2008.
In 2008, I spent 12 months seconded to Atkins as an Assistant Site Supervisor on Phase 1 of Aberaeron North Beach Coast Protection Scheme, based at the site offices at Aberaeron North Beach. The scheme involved the construction of nine new timber groynes, two rock groynes and the construction of rock revetment wall using over 70,000 tonnes of rock boulders, along with a new sea wall. It was great to see the scheme progress, from the first boulders put in place to the last, and to see how well the rocks have defended Aberaeron against many a storm since.
I then became a Technical Assistant (Projects) which is my current role. My job within the Council is very varied. From February to September I am involved in setting up the Surface Dressing programme which is a county wide programme of surfacing works. I also oversee parts of the winter maintenance service.
People often have the perception that winter maintenance begins when the weather turns colder; however this is not the case. There is some involvement with the winter maintenance programme throughout the course of the year.
Usually, we start planning and preparing for the oncoming winter in May, just a few weeks after the previous winter season has come to an end. At this time of year we carry out some maintenance work on our two salt barns, based at the Glanyrafon depot in Aberystwyth and Penrhos depot in Llandysul. This is when the salt stock levels are at their lowest which makes access to the barns easier, if repairs are required.
The salt from the Penrhos barn is used on roads to the south of the county, from Tregaron down to Cardigan whilst the salt at the Glanyrafon depot is used on roads north of the county, from Llangurig and Machynlleth down to Tregaron.
Once necessary repair work is completed, an order is placed for rock salt for the coming winter. Salt is delivered on 28 tonne lorries from the salt mines at Winsford, Cheshire, with around seven to eight lorries arriving per day. Deliveries start in early June, and last summer, 3,600 tonnes were delivered to Ceredigion, bringing up the stock levels to 9,800 tonnes. This is the amount of salt that the Welsh Government requests that Ceredigion stock at the beginning of every winter season.
We have around 60 qualified operatives who work on a rota basis over the winter period who can operate our winter service fleet. It can be a challenging time working out the rota and this duty begins in August when questionnaires are sent out to the gritter drivers for information on their availability from October through to April, which includes cover over Christmas and New Year. Drivers are from specific services; Highways, Refuse Collection, Street Cleaners and Park & Garden Maintenance.
One of the first tasks is to ensure that over 600 Grit bins across the county which are for the public to use are filled and any damaged bins replaced. Grit bins tend to be situated near steep roads that are not on designated gritter routes. Depending on what kind of winter we have, the bins will be stocked up again over the course of the winter season.
There are 11 fully trained supervisors who work out of both depots, on a rota basis, when the gritting fleet are out salting the roads. The supervisors are responsible for preparing the gritting vehicles for their routes; weighing them on our weighbridges before they leave to make sure that the vehicles have enough salt on board to complete the routes; instructing the drivers of the correct amount of salt that needs to be distributed on the highway; and making sure the vehicles depart from the depots at the correct time. All our vehicles have a tracking systems installed as the work is mainly done alone and, more often than not, being carried out in the early hours of the morning. The duty supervisor will monitor all the vehicles whilst they are out on the roads. Once the gritters have returned after completing the routes, they are weighed again. The quantity of salt used is logged and checks are made to confirm that the correct amount of salt has been distributed. Gritters are then prepared ready for the next run.
The decision as to whether the gritters are deployed depends on what information is received from Meteorgroup, our forecast provider. We receive 3 forecasts per day from October until April, 7 days a week and the Highways Duty Officer will use the information to decide on whether a gritting run is required or not. If temperatures are forecasted to fall below +1°C, it is all systems go for salt to be put on the roads! Conditions are then monitored to see if the same routes need to be gritted again. If conditions have been dry, there may be no need to re-grit the following evening, but if it’s been wet the salt may have been washed away or a road prone to heavy traffic may have had the grit pushed off the surface, then these will need to be gritted again. Information on all gritting actions are sent to interested parties including the Trunk Road Agency and the Council’s Communications Team who then post information on the Council’s social media pages to inform the public of icy conditions.
There are 10 primary gritting routes in total, covering 437 km of Ceredigion’s roads. These routes are determined through the use of a matrix, which takes into account many variables including traffic, altitude and schools.
At the beginning of October, maintenance checks are carried out on the gritters. All our gritters are also calibrated before the start of the season to make sure the correct quantity of salt is distributed on the highway. The fleet consists of 10 frontline gritters, 5 situated in each of the north and south depots, and 7 reserve gritters. There are also 5 purpose built snow blowers in the fleet. These are only ever used in extreme conditions when there is a heavy snowfall and drifting conditions.
When there is a hard frost it is very likely that the gritters are out early evening and again in the early hours of the morning. In the snowfall of December 2017, the forecast predicted a snowfall of up to 20cms for parts of Ceredigion. When a forecast like this is received our gritting crews are put on a 12 hour shift pattern, ploughs are fitted and all vehicles are two manned. During this time, every vehicle in the winter fleet, including snow blowers, were used to try and keep the main arterial routes of Ceredigion open. Nearly 1,000 tonne of salt was used and over 9,000 miles travelled over eight 12 hour shifts.
My current role required me to go back to college for 1 day a week over a 2 year period to do a HNC course in Civil Engineering. I was 47 when I embarked on the course and it was a massive shock to the system to return to the classroom after 30 years. My children thought it was hilarious that Dad had to do homework! It was hard work, but it got me to where I am today.
Aside from the large amount of time involved with the Winter maintenance and surface dressing programme, another part of my role consists of keeping training records of the workforce up to date, organising training courses and refresher training as and when required.
All of our winter service operatives have to gain a City & Guilds qualification to operate a gritting vehicle, which is valid for 5 years. Part of my role is to ensure that all our winter service personnel’s training records are up to date, from the operatives to the decision makers, the Duty Officers. Every year, refresher training is organised to ensure operatives are up to date.
I am also involved in our Quality Management Systems team within Highways Services. This role involves getting accreditation with British Standards for Quality Management, Health and Safety Environmental, and I am part of the team that ensure structures are in place to keep the accreditation. A part of this involves carrying out internal audits on all Highway Maintenance activities throughout the county, maintaining records and attending external audits during the year.
One of my memorable duties within the role was assisting in the Olympic Torch procession. I helped set up the vicarage fields in Aberystwyth for the event, and was part of the traffic management and crowd control team as the torch made its way through Ceredigion. This duty was repeated 2 years later when the Commonwealth Torch made its way through the county.
What I enjoy about my role is the variety of work, having to deal with a range of different situations. As part of the Highways Reactive Team you have to be prepared for whatever the day throws at you. Changing weather conditions have a massive impact on our workforce. I have learnt over the years not to make any solid plans for the next day because you are never quite sure what is going to happen.
A couple of months ago, we had the to deal with the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia and the effects from storm Brian which included many fallen trees, flooding, issues with the highways, and calls made from both the public and emergency services. This put pressure on our service, but our staff worked hard in various locations day and night to help alleviate the issues.
I take pride in knowing that I am part of a team that helps ensure that the roads in Ceredigion are made safer during icy conditions because the gritters have been out. Nevertheless, drivers still need to drive carefully when driving in the winter and remember to maintain a safe distance from winter service vehicles and overtake very carefully. During periods of low temperatures, ice can still be present in isolated locations after or prior to the application of salt and gritters are designed to spread salt across the entire width of the carriageway.
For more advice and information on highways during winter, visit the Council’s website: https://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/travel-roads-parking/highways-during-Winter/
You can view the routes that are salted in Ceredigion by visiting the interactive map on the Council’s website: http://map.ceredigion.gov.uk/connect/?mapcfg=PRECAUTIONARY_SALTING