York Stone Thefts – Heritage Crime

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York Stone Thefts

York Stone Thefts Blighting Leeds. York stone is the distinctive natural textured stone quarried in Yorkshire that features in much of the paving in the older parts of the city, particularly in places like Harehills, Headingley, Woodhouse, Burley, Armley, Cross Green, Roundhay, Oakwood, Gledhow, Beeston, Pudsey and Chapel Allerton.

For some time the residents of Little Woodhouse and Headingly (and no doubt your community too) have been exercised by the all too regular spates where our Conservation areas are being reduced to muddy paths and major trip hazards by greedy, self-serving criminals.

Thieves quite brazenly come in their vans and dig up our stone pavements. In one instance they actually used stolen highways signage when removing a whole strip of paving flags in Claremont Grove, which is now covered in tarmac and due to lack of funding, quite likely to remain like this for the foreseeable future.

A clamp down on metal theft from railway signals, manhole covers, gulley grates, etc. has been managed to an extent by licencing the scrap metal dealers, checking provenance and narrowing down outlets for resale. One early suggestion from our community was to do something similar to mitigate theft of the York stone flags; however, we understand it is not so easy to do this with Garden Centres and those selling such materials for kitchen flooring, landscape architecture and the like.

Executive members of Leeds City Council are acutely aware of the problem. Some of the strategies being considered are: 

  • Making sure flags are fully cement pointed; but with approximately 250,000 square metres of stone flags spread over 500 or so streets across the city it would be extremely costly and time consuming. 
  • Marking the flags with Smart Water is another alternative but again, the cost is high and the product needs to be re-applied every few years in order to remain effective. 
  • Working with local stone merchants on a ‘responsible practice agreement’ to try and reduce the ease with which stolen products are traded. 
  • Working with the local police to share knowledge to try and ensure a proportionate and targeted response. 
  • Replacing stone flags on some streets with conservation type concrete flags.

Leeds City Council estimate theft of York stone flags in our region has gone up by 50% since the last financial year, yet the Police tell us they have received fewer reports. Even though it is costing the tax payer dearly – in terms of increasing Highways costs as well as the aesthetic breakdown of Character Areas which make our environment so distinctive - this Heritage Crime has not, in the past, been statistically registered. To the point that those ‘caught at it’ were merely cautioned.

Hopefully things are changing… 

You too can help put a stop to this Heritage Crime, which is a national problem as well as local, by being more vigilant and interacting with local agencies:

  • If you witness criminals in the act of stealing York stone flags, make a note of the type of vehicle, the registration number and the appearance of the individuals. Report to Police immediately by dialling 999.
  • If you notice flags missing after the event of theft. Call the Police on 101 (non emergency number) to log this as a crime.

In both instances above, do try to get an ‘incident’ number even if they won’t issue a ‘crime’ number.

The process should be more joined up now and if we all play our part then we should be able to cling on to what is left of our Character Areas.

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