Lead is a traditional material that is found commonly on the roofs of churches, houses, town halls and other public buildings. The threat posed to conservation buildings by lead theft is significant. Most people are aware that the theft of lead and other metals is rising dramatically as the value of scrap metal increases. Metal theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the UK. Theft of historic lead currently accounts for approximately 5% of metal theft in the UK but it remains an extremely expensive problem.
Lead theft can be traced back to Roman times. In the 18th century, legislation was introduced that declared the theft and possession of such metals a crime. Not only targeting the thieves but also the receivers of stolen metals. In 1964 the Scrap Metal Dealers Act was introduced to improve regulation of the scrap metal trade. The recent scale of the problem has focused police attention on the issue. For the British Transport Police, cable theft from the railway network is now second only to terrorism in its list of priorities.
Lead Theft Prevention
Before investigating expensive security procedures, it is important to consider basic crime prevention techniques. Buildings with small amounts of lead are likely to attract less organised thieves who are more easily deterred, so it is important to make theft as difficult as possible for them. The following basic techniques can be surprisingly effective:
- Contact your local crime prevention team and check whether or not the area is a metal theft hotspot. Let them know the value of any metals on the site.
- Keep gates locked and restrict vehicle access. Traffic bollards are a good way to prevent access when a site is closed.
- Keep wheelbarrows, wheelie bins and any other item that could be used to transport stolen lead in a secure storage area.
- Increase visibility levels by cutting back tall trees and shrubs.
- Install security lighting.
- Encourage local people to keep an eye on the building and report any suspicious activity to the police e.g. the unexpected arrival of workmen.
- Take away any means of access to roofs, such as large outdoor bins and tall trees located in close proximity to the building and always store ladders in a secure place.
- Plant beds of prickly bushes or trees around the base of walls to hinder access.
- Conduct regular checks of roofs so that lead theft is detected as it occurs instead of waiting till the roof leaks and causes more damage.
- Apply anti-climb paint to drainpipes and roof guttering to restrict access to roofing (warning notices should be displayed.)
In 2017, Historic England published guidance advising that “like-for-like is highly desirable” when a roof is stolen. They stated that changing the material could “detract enormously from a building’s significance”. The guidance says that they will “not support the use of synthetic non-metal materials” except in “highly exceptional circumstances”.
LEAD CONSERVATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Lancashire Conservation Roofing provide all aspects of professional conservation roofing services. We operate across Lancashire, The Fylde Coast and South Lakeland. We offer an experienced team of professional tradesmen who will be able to advise you about how best to move forward with your repair work, whether you live in a Conservation Area or a listed building. Contact our team today to find out more.
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