Metal thefts see council scale back school repairs

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REPAIRS and maintenance in schools and other council buildings has been scaled back to only those “essential” for health and safety after city chiefs were forced to pay out more than £177,000 as a result of metal thefts.

The cost of repairs to damaged buildings means that the city-wide repairs budget has been severely affected, and council bosses say they now have to limit their building maintenance programme.

In the first six months of this year, £177,328 has been spent repairing buildings damaged by metal thieves, although this figure is set to be “considerably higher” when the cost of permanent repairs is counted.

Buildings including Liberton High School, Lauriston Castle, Parsons Green Primary, McDonald Road Library, the Ross Bandstand and Church Hill Theatre have all been damaged as a result of copper and lead thefts.

The disused Bonnington Primary in Leith has also fallen victim to the growing trade in metal thefts.

Council chiefs have teamed up with Lothian and Borders Police in a bid to reduce the number of thefts, but are struggling to deal with the “burden” of the costs already incurred.

Finance leader Councillor Phil Wheeler said: “Theft diverts money away from where it is needed most. It’s a serious problem and a major burden on the council’s budget.

“Regrettably, it may be impossible to stop determined thieves completely but we are set on making their lives more difficult.

“We need the public’s help and I would urge anyone who has suspicions about work taking place on a building to contact us to check if it’s legitimate.

“We would much rather receive a false alarm than have another theft take place.”

The new joint initiative between the police and the council will see some buildings given their own “forensic identity” and others covered with “dummy” metals.

Vulnerable buildings are to be doused in SmartWater which shows up under UV lights, allowing potential buyers to know whether the metal has been stolen.

Materials which look similar and perform to the same standard as metals but have no value in the scrap market will also be tested on council properties.

City education leader Councillor Marilyne MacLaren added: “Metal has been stolen from schools across the city and I’m stunned at the lengths to which thieves are going to steal it.

“Theft and damage impacts on school maintenance budgets and can potentially cause safety issues in schools so this is far from a victimless crime.”

gfraser@edinburghnews.com