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.
Some 8,000 licences have been issued since the Act came into force in England and Wales.
The change in law came after the Daily Express launched its successful Shop The Vile Vandals crusade to stop the theft of metals from memorials to Britain’s fallen war heroes.
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.
The South East region saw the biggest fall in metal thefts (46%), followed by London (44%) and the North West (40%).
Ann Lucas, chairwoman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “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.”