What had once been thought of a problem confined to the rail network is now spreading to the entire transport infrastructure, MPs were told at Westminster. Norman Baker, the local transport minister, said: “This problem transcends the railway. It has affected motorways, the coastguard and the telecoms industry. The level of theft tends to follow the price of copper and other metals on world markets.”
Recent incidents have seen street lighting cable plundered on major roads, causing sudden blackouts, such as on the A63, which links the M1 and the centre of Leeds in recent weeks. According to West Yorkshire police cable worth more than £200,000 has been stolen with the outer casing being stripped off and sold on.
Last month thieves threw one of the Government’s managed motorways schemes into disarray after stealing cable used to connect signs and closed circuit television cameras.
It meant that the Highways Agency was unable to open up the hard shoulder to ease congestion on the M6 between Walsall and Wolverhampton. In some cases thieves who believe they are getting away with valuable copper have been stealing fibre optic cable, which is almost worthless. It is not only cable theft which is posing a threat to motorists, according to Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety.
“When you are talking about metal theft you also have to take into account warning signs being stolen,” he said.
“If this happens on a bend, it can be really dangerous. On a remote road in North Yorkshire, for example, you would expect chevron signs and if that is not there it is much more worrying.”
In a move to curb the activities of the metal thieves, George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced a £5 million task force which will be dedicated to tackling the criminal gangs and scrap metal dealers who trade in stolen material. But Mr Baker, giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee, made clear that he believed new laws were needed to tackle metal theft, including possibly updating the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act.
“British Transport Police has indicated that it would be helpful to have new powers. There is a general concern, which I am very happy to share, that the legislation in place isn’t designed for the spate of thefts we are seeing.”
[Source: Daily Telegraph]