Lead raids leaving councils with huge repair bill

CASH-strapped local authorities in Yorkshire are having to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to repair damage caused by metal thieves who have targeted cemeteries, schools and listed Victorian buildings in their quest for easy profits.

Schools have been flooded as thieves have torn up water pipes, and listed municipal buildings left with massive repair bills as gangs have taken roof lead and even lightning conductors to meet the growing global demand for metal.

On the roads the lives of cyclists and pedestrians have been put at risk as thousands of metal drain covers have been pulled up to sell for just a few pounds.

One West Yorkshire council had more than 2,000 drain covers stolen in three years.

Figures obtained following Freedom of Information requests by the Yorkshire Post show that Barnsley Council has been one of the worst hit authorities.

Lead and copper thefts have cost the Barnsley taxpayer 238,000 in recent years and the theft of grates and manholes – more than 900 since 2007 – has left the council with an estimated bill of around 382,000.

Another South Yorkshire council hit hard, Sheffield, has had to pick up a bill of over 309,000 in three years as thieves stripped lead from schools and council buildings, including Heeley Pool which forced the council to repair the roof at a cost of 256,000.

Firth Park Clocktower was also stripped of lead, costing 8,000 to repair, and Birley Spa Bath House, a Grade II listed building, was attacked five times by lead thieves, who caused a total of 10,000 of damage.

A Sheffield Council spokesman said the 'hidden costs' of such thefts were very significant and meant other projects being shelved.

In Hull, the costs since 2007 have been put at about 105,000 and included the theft of bronze plaques from a memorial in Western Cemetery, which have not been replaced.

Other authorities have been left with large repair and replacement bills, which in many cases have been going up year on year.

In Rotherham around 300 gully covers were taken in a year up to October, costing the authority 35,000, which a spokesman said should have been spent on other projects.

In North Yorkshire manhole cover thieves left behind a bill put at 50,000 in 2008. Leeds Council estimates its losses at 127,000 and said almost 3,500 items, including grate covers, had been stolen in five years.

Calderdale's bill was around 86,000 but is an underestimate as the authority only recently began gathering the information. And in Wakefield over 600 gulley covers have been taken in just two years at a cost of 250 a grate.

In Bradford, over 2,000 gulley covers have been stolen in three years, leaving the authority with a bill of 200,000, with a further 94,000 spent on repairs to historic buildings and museums.

Police say metal theft has been on the rise as the price of copper and lead has gone up. In West Yorkshire, police have teamed up with churches and mosques as religious buildings have been stripped of lead again and again.

Last week three men were arrested in Bradford while allegedly stealing copper and lead from a house.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said officers are working with scrap dealers to reduce thefts. In the last year 18 people in West Yorkshire have been arrested for metal theft.

YORKSHIRE AUTHORITIES COUNT THE COST

The cost of repairing buildings and replacing grate covers across Yorkshire is estimated at 2.3m in the last five years but this is a huge underestimate as some councils, including Kirklees, did not provide any figures and others released only partial statistics.

Worst hit have been schools and old buildings. In Wakefield, 19 schools were stripped of lead and in Sheffield, a secondary school had a flood costing 17,500 after a copper pipe from a roof tank was taken. In Barnsley 70 thefts from buildings, mainly lead and slates, cost 238,000. In Hull, metal thefts from primary schools cost 67,000. In North East Lincolnshire 28 schools were targeted, costing the council 105,000.