Fenland manhole cover theft epidemic to be curbed as Cambridgeshire County Council hope new recycled plastic covers deter thieves

THEFTS of manhole covers across Fenland and the rest of Cambridgeshire have reached epidemic levels with an average of 16 being stolen every week.

Wisbech, Chatteris, Benwick, Wisbech St Mary and Witcham have all been targeted in the past week taking the total of missing covers so far this year to more than 130.

Nearly �2,000 will be spent to replace the seven manhole covers that were taken from Church Road and Station Road in Wisbech St Mary but the county council hope to stop the number of thefts by introducing dense plastic gully grates which have no scrap value.

The new ‘Envirogrates’, provided by Pipeline & Drainage Systems PLC, can be installed in 10 minutes and are designed to take the weight of 20 ton lorries so can be used on all road types.

The first thefts were reported on January 11 when nine covers were missing from roads around Wisbech, Leverington and Gorefield and a week later, five more were stolen from Whittlesey Road, March, with Friday Bridge, Elm and Tydd St Giles also affected.

A Cambs County Council spokesman said: “The County Council is awaiting delivery of recycled dense plastic gully grates, which cost �60 each. These are supposedly durable enough for use on our road network where covers have been stolen. As they have no scrap value, hopefully they will remain in place.

“They enable us to provide an instant and safe temporary repair as they just drop in to the holes with no need for workmen to put out cones and then return later with the correct size of iron grate.

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“County Council officers have carried out visits to local scrap dealers but there is no evidence that any of them have been offered any highway drainage castings.”

Philip Burns, 30, of New Bridge Lane, Wisbech, has been charged in connection with the manhole cover thefts in March and will appear before Fenland Magistrates next Wednesday.

• SCRAP metal thieves posed as workmen in high visibility jackets to steal manhole covers.

Police are appealing for witnesses after several covers were stolen from Witcham High Street between 6pm on Monday and 9.30am on Tuesday by men pretending they were legitimately removing them.

Inspector Robin Sissons said: “This was a brazen theft in a busy street and I would appeal to anyone who sees men removing manhole covers and not replacing them to contact police.

“Not only does this type of crime cause inconvenience to motorists and the local council, but there are also severe safety implications. A vehicle could sustain significant damage if it was to drive over one of these holes and there is also the danger of pedestrians falling into an uncovered manhole and injuring themselves.”

A Cambs County Council spokesman said: “We would appeal for witnesses to contact police about these thefts. It is not a wise thing to do and it causes safety concerns.

“It costs about �250 to replace each cover but it’s not just the price of the cover, we have to get people out as well. If these thefts are reported in the middle of the night we have to get people out there immediately.

“I am sure the vast majority of people in Cambridgeshire would want to see this money spent on roads and not having to replace covers which have been stolen.”

CONTACT: Anyone with information should call police on 0345 456 456 4 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.

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