HIGHWAYS bosses are appealing to the public to be vigilant following a spate of grate and manhole cover thefts.
Twenty-four cast iron grates and manhole covers disappeared over the weekend from back roads and side streets in the Harvey Street area of Oswaldtwistle, the Balfour Street area of Great Harwood and the Lower Antley Street area of Accrington.
A further 46 have been stolen, mainly from the Oswaldtwistle area, since the beginning of April.
The metal can be reshaped and sold on the black market for hundreds of pounds.
Highways workers are having to replace each cover and mount and resurface the road – costing around £200 per gully grate, found next to the kerb, and £450 per manhole cover. So far the bill has topped £19,000.
County Councillor Doreen Pollitt, deputy leader of Lanca-shire County Council, said: "I am amazed that anyone has the brass neck to go out and brazenly steal public property in this way.
"The problem is that members of the public see a van turn up and a couple of men in fluorescent jackets putting cones out, so they presume it’s all above board.
"Alarm bells only ring when people notice gaping holes in the road.
"And while we are out replacing the grate tops at great expense, the culprits will be trying to find a scrapyard to buy the iron.
"As well as the cost to the taxpayer, this sort of crime leaves behind a major safety hazard for pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and drivers."
Hyndburn Council leader Peter Britcliffe said: "This is the most dangerous type of theft I have heard of because it can result in people having accidents. If anybody sees such a theft they should contact the police immediately because it’s so dangerous.’’
Residents are being urged to take a note of the registration numbers of suspicious vans carrying out work. Scrapyards which have been approached by someone trying to weigh in the items are also being asked to come forwards.
Anyone with information should call the county council on 0845 053 0011.