COMMUNITIES should consider buying their own road salt to combat snow and ice, according to Oxfordshire’s deputy chief fire officer.

Colin Thomas told a review into planning for severe winter weather that bags of salt could be stockpiled by communities for use in case delivery lorries could not get through.

Oxfordshire County Council also pledged to have more staff available to answer calls for assistance and to work more closely with the Highways Agency to keep major roads open.

Mr Thomas said there was a “potential for communities to stockpile more salt, but at their expense”.

He told councillors looking into the authority’s preparations for wintry weather: “The idea [is] to enhance that community’s resilience. If the network is jammed, getting salt out is difficult.”

The authority has already said it has no plans to provide more roadside salt bins.

Spokesman Owen Morton said: “We’re currently reviewing how we manage these grit bins, with the aim of providing a more reliable resource for use by local communities.”

He added: “There’s nothing stopping local communities and parish councils from stockpiling additional salt to fill these bins, at their own expense, to ensure they are better replenished.”

Summertown & Wolvercote Liberal Democrat councillor John Goddard, a member of the county council’s safer and stronger communities scrutiny committee, which was told about the proposal yesterday, criticised the idea.

He told the Oxford Mail: “The availability of more grit is welcome. Having to pay for it is not. If grit is needed, then it should be provided by the county council. We all pay our council tax.”

Banbury Neithrop councillor Alyas Ahmed told the meeting: “The bins we know get filled, but the public don’t believe that.”

He said he followed one salt delivery lorry and saw cars pull up after it had left and people had got out and taken the salt from the bin.

A report by Bethan Morgan, the council’s emergency planning officer, said a severe weather plan drawn up after heavy snow in January last year was “useful” when more snow fell last December.

It called for more “robust” planning of staff holidays, because the snow meant “many people who would normally be free to volunteer for emergency response were reluctant to interfere with Christmas arrangements”.

This improved when the “extent of the situation was understood” said Ms Morgan.

But she said more needed to be done to handle calls outside offices hours, perhaps using staff from the customer service centre. And more 4x4 vehicles were needed to help council staff to get where they were needed, she said.

While council management of its roads improved, Miss Morgan said, a plan was needed to manage disruption on the A34, which is managed by the Highways Agency.

This would involve a dedicated team to respond to incidents, she said.

Miss Morgan added: “Our plan is about bringing that co-ordination down to a very tactical level, bringing the Highways Agency in early on to a much more practical level of response.”