Thefts of materials ranging from electricity cables to metal from railway lines, war memorials, road signs, children’s playground equipment and church roofs are costing the country as much as £770 million a year, said the Local Government Association (LGA).
But following the October 2013 introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which requires dealers to hold a licence to trade and gave councils new powers to deal with rogue operations, numbers of metal thefts fell from almost 60,000 a year to 40,680 in 2013/14.
In Yorkshire and the Humber, the total number of metal theft offences dropped by 27 per cent, from 9,354 in 2012/13 to 6,783 in 2013/14. Infrastructure-related offences were down by 37 per cent.
The South East region saw the biggest fall in metal thefts (46 per cent), followed by London (44 per cent) and the North West (40 per cent).
The first closure notice on a dealer trading without a licence was served last month in Milton Keynes, while an unlicensed dealer in Lichfield was ordered to pay costs and fines totalling £1,961 after pleading guilty to illegally trading.
Ann Lucas, chairwoman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “The scourge of metal theft costs the country hundreds of millions of pounds a year and has a hugely negative impact on communities, businesses and councils.
“Such a significant drop in metal thefts is excellent news for communities who have suffered from the chaos, disruption and heartache caused by unscrupulous metal thieves.
“Councils were long-calling for new laws to help them regulate the scrap metal industry in order to make it more difficult for thieves to flog their stolen goods to scrap yards.
“It is great to see it is having such a positive impact but the fact there are still around 40,000 metal thefts a year show there can be no let up.”