Grid thefts are a drain on council
9:02am Monday 29th October 2012 in News
CRIMINAL gangs could be responsible for stealing more than 1,000 iron drain covers in Bolton.
The problem has become so serious Bolton Council is now embarking on a major programme to replace traditional cast iron grids with new steel-hinged models to deter thieves.
But a report to the council warned it could take 100 years to replace them all.
The council has received 1,365 reports of missing covers in the four years since 2008 and, despite the value of each being “negligible”, they cost hundreds of pounds in equipment and labour to replace. Plastic grids used as temporary replacements are also often stolen by youths, town hall chiefs say.
The council has been hit by 19 compensation claims related to uncovered drains in the last two years, which could cost the taxpayer more than £200,000. Cllr Nick Peel, Bolton Council’s executive cabinet member for the environment, has approved plans to install the hinged covers, which have no scrap value and are opened rather than removed when access is needed.
Other options suggested were filling open drains with concrete, even though it would have resulted in a potential flood risk — a move Cllr Peel described as “the doomsday scenario if the council had no money” — or installing composite plastic lids.
The 15-week programme has a budget of £71,000 to replace 600 covers but, with a total of 61,000 drains in the borough, the report said, at its present rate of funding, replacing all of them would take a century.
Cllr Peel claims the thefts were not opportunistic, but the result of organised gangs working with rogue elements of the scrap trade.
He said: “At a time of severe public sector cuts it’s unfortunate that the council has to divert much-needed monies away from street lighting, roads and highways in order to replace grid covers simply because we’re forced to do it by people stealing them.
“Not only that, their actions are exceptionally dangerous.”
There has been a surge in metal theft across the country over the last few years caused by soaring scrap prices driven by demand in China and India.
Police say the problem has lessened in recent months because they are cracking down on thefts by working with scrap dealers to identify rogue sellers.
Insp Wayne Readfern, who is in charge of tackling metal theft in Bolton, said drain theft was still a problem in Bolton.
He said: “Some were stolen in the space of one day by the same group. We recovered them and made arrests.
“In effect, it’s leaving a hole in the ground. Cars are going over them and it’s causing real danger to drivers and pedestrians.”
Insp Readfern added: “Metal theft in general is still a problem in Bolton.
“It’s seen as a quick hit for the criminals and it’s cash in hand.”
He said police had improved their relationship with scrap dealers and were now providing them with details of known thieves so they can be easily spotted.