Scrutiny councillors have given the go-ahead for a mega salt barn in Calderdale to hold its stocks of winter grit in the future.
A split vote to pass Cabinet’s previous decision on developing the 10,000-tonne capacity salt barn at its Ainleys depot, Elland, for implementation (with other elements concerning the barn being decided by council) but not without fierce argument about whether it would be worth it.
Place Scrutiny Board chairman Coun Steven Leigh (Ryburn), who called the item in, said he had no objections to a salt barn but it had to be of a specification that would cover the necessary costs and make the necessary savings.
It should also be a permanent structure, not one with a limited life, otherwise there would be no legacy for the future.
And he suggested that on current stocking levels the barn would not be big enough and ran the risk of the council not storing enough salt to see it through bad winters.
Coun Leigh said it had been suggested the salt barn be installed at a cost of £1.1 million for the 10,000 tonne capacity structure, with the money for installation being borrowed and repaid with interest over 25 years – a cost of £65,000 per year.
The report sent to councillors said there would also be a running cost of £35,000 each year of the salt barn’s expected life.
That meant the cost of the salt barn would be £100,000 a year for 25 years, totalling £2.5 million, he said.
As the proposal anticipated savings on reduced usage of grit, as it would be weather-protected with less run off, of £63,000 a year, that would only mean savings of £1.575 million a year, leaving a deficit of £925,000.
Coun Leigh said the report to councillors said Calderdale begins the winter season with 18,000 tonnes of salt.
The plan allowed for 10,000 tonnes in the grit barn, he said, with other salt stored outside at Ainleys and at a Mytholmroyd depot.
To make the predicted five per cent saving in run-off from water-damaged salt left open to the elements it all needed to be inside, otherwise savings benefits would not be realised.
“The Cabinet paper fails to produce adequate payback. An 18,000 tonne capacity would probably produce genuine savings. It would satisfy best practice.
“And the overall viability depends on it being a permanent structure.
“I think we should take a step back with this proposal, take it back and see what an optimum proposal would be for the borough,” said Coun Leigh.
But the council’s Highways, Engineering and Transport Service Lead, Steven Lee, said projections were on the conservative side.
He said the council began the winter with 18,000 tonnes of grit in stock with levels maintained at 12,000 tonnes, bought “off-season” but some of it subject to erosion from water-run-off as it had to be stored outside.
The council could store 10,000 tonnes all inside in the new bigger salt barn with much less wastage which meant the council would not need to buy as much salt to carry out operations.
“There is no intention of storing any dry salt externally. It would all be inside,” said Mr Lee.
Coun Lee said his 18,000 tonne barn would ensure there were enough stocks and a buffer stock for if salt became more in demand and highly priced in a poor winter.
Mr Lee said the council had always bought its salt in bulk and run it down across a winter, on average using 12,000 tonnes.
However Calderdale can and did buy additional salt when it was required – councillors recently heard 31,000 tonnes were used last winter.
But the savings hinged around the 10,000 tonne capacity figure.
Savings from run-off would be higher than the five per cent used in the figures and the actual cost of buying an off-the-peg salt barn with a 25-year lifespan would likely be less than £1.1 million, which had been given as a maximum cost of the project.
Size too was important in the costings, as were operational factors – “Yes, maybe a larger salt barn will be useful but it won’t deliver performance as to how we hit the roads. The rateable value will increase as will a large part of running costs,” said Mr Lee.
Coun Jenny Lynn (Lab, Park) said she found the report to be quite sound and Coun Dave Young (Lab, Calder) said he was happy for the decision to be released for implementation.
Coun Roger Taylor (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said the report contained too many savings that were “anticipated” rather than certain. “Are we going to achieve the savings to pay back that predicted borrowing?” he said.
Of savings Mr Lee replied: “Hopefully, you will get more than that pay back” and added that money saved could then be spent by the council on other things.
Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden), Cabinet member for Regeneration and Economic Strategy, said: “The figure of £1.1 million was an absolute top figure but we did that on purpose and expect it to be lower.”
After the meeting Coun Leigh said he still found the proposal numerically flawed and financially naive. “The whole proposal is a shambles which is not fit for purpose, and which should not be allowed to go ahead,” he said.