Nearly one in six councils had road salt stolen last year, with highways bosses urging people to be on the look-out for thieves stealing grit this winter.
Residents are being asked not to buy grit from door-to-door sellers as it is likely to have been taken illegally.
As well as pilfering stock from on-street grit bins and loading it into trucks, raiders stole whole grit bins and their contents, the Local Government Association (LGA) said. Some councils lost up to 20 tonnes’ worth.
With severe freezing temperatures and snow forecast over the next few days, gritters will be out in force treating a possible 80,000 miles of road.
Councils are concerned that opportunist thieves stealing salt, either to stockpile for themselves or to sell on the black market, could impact on their resilience plans and put pedestrians and motorists at risk.
Despite concerns over theft, the LGA’s winter readiness survey suggests councils are as well-prepared as they have ever been to cope with snow and ice, with new equipment, wider-reaching community schemes and more communication outlets to keep people up-to-speed with the latest information.
The survey found that councils had an estimated 1.3 million tonnes of salt in stock at the end of October – the same amount as the same time last year and nearly twice the 700,000 tonnes used throughout last winter.
It said 20 per cent of councils aimed to have more salt than last year and 69 per cent the same.
Councils reported they treat about 40 per cent of their roads.
Wakefield Council leader Peter Box, who chairs the LGA’s economy and transport board, said: “Councils are setting up more and more on-street schemes so residents and community groups can treat local pavements and side streets.
“Unfortunately this has seen opportunistic thieves abuse the system for their own selfish ends.
“Stealing salt or entire salt bins is inexcusable and dangerous.
“These thefts put motorists and pedestrians, particularly the elderly, at risk as they have to negotiate icy roads and pavements which could otherwise have been treated.”
He added: “We’d urge anyone who sees people loading on-street supplies of salt into trucks or taking the bin or bag entirely to contact the police, and they certainly shouldn’t encourage a black market by buying it off door-to-door sellers.”