OUR heritage is being plundered.

Pavements where generations before us, and since, have strolled are being ripped up and replaced by concrete, a sad reflection of the times we now live in.

Instead of being appreciated as a symbol of the past, and as a characteristic of the places where we live or visit, Yorkshire stone has become a sought after commodity and is now being sold on, presumably to the highest bidder.

So far, this year, pavements have disappeared from 20 locations predominantly around West and South Bradford including areas such as Wibsey, Queensbury and Great Horton.

In the latest incident, 24 Yorkshire flagstones were stolen from the pavement outside the historic church of St John’s in Great Horton.

Andy Whelan, Bradford Council’s principal engineer for Highways maintenance, explains the target areas tend to be the older parts of the city and district.

He believes the thefts have become more prolific in the past 20 years when demand for Yorkshire stone in gardens has grown.

At a time when local councils are already under pressure to tweak their budgets replacing stone flags is a cost they could well do without.

Due to the substantial replacement costs and the fact that councils have few if not any to hand, they have to resort to using concrete replacements.

“We are losing our heritage through it as well,” says Andy.

It is also unnecessary work they are having to undertake simply to make the locations safe following the thefts, and it diverts resources from where they should be spent.

But stone thefts have been a cause for concern for some time. Three years ago 41 pieces of Yorkshire stone were stolen during six raids around the city, including Tyersal and West Bowling.

Saltaire, the World Heritage Site, has also been susceptible to stone thefts in the past. Evidently, no stone is left unturned by the culprits who have even stripped country settings further afield with walls and pathways plundered in areas such as Sutton-in-Craven and Kildwick.

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland called on ministers to introduce tougher penalties to help stop the recent theft of stone across Leeds and Yorkshire.

This follows a series of parliamentary questions he recently tabled to Home Office ministers asking what they were doing to tackle the spate of stone theft the region has seen in recent months.

Greg is calling for a dedicated national stone theft taskforce to be set up, just as ministers did in 2013 in tackling theft of scrap metal, when the National Metal Theft Taskforce was set up. He is also calling for stronger fines and sentences to deter further thefts and a national awareness-raising campaign for households and businesses to check where their stone is from.

“I am aware of many incidents in my own constituency, and further beyond in Leeds and Yorkshire. This is not only stripping back Yorkshire’s heritage, but it is damaging our farms, schools, churches and other local buildings. The last coalition government took strong and effective action to tackle theft of scrap metal, but criminals have now turned their attention to stone. Ministers must step up to the plate once again and bring forward the tougher penalties that we all need to see.”

Dorothy Fairburn, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said: “Stone theft is a real issue for Yorkshire farmers and landowners. Many of our members have fallen victim to this crime, with top stones from roadside walls and roof slates being most frequently targeted.

“Not only is the stone and slate expensive to replace, but the damage to walls and buildings can be highly detrimental to the stunning heritage and landscapes that define our region.”

She urges CLA members to always report thefts to the police.

“It is only by building up evidence a problem exists that we will be able to persuade government that action needs to be taken.”

Chris Joyce, West Yorkshire Police Force Crime Prevention Officer, said: “Stone theft is a national problem due to the difficulty in tracing the stone once it’s been stolen and effectively policing the often rural and isolated areas it’s frequently taken from.

“The theft of Yorkshire Stone increased by 18 per cent last year in West Yorkshire and we are continuing to work with community groups and conducting operations to target suspects.

“We would ask the public to play their part in protecting our heritage and to help us combat this type of crime by alerting us to any suspicious activity. If you have any concerns please contact police and, without putting yourself at risk, make a note of any individuals or vehicles.

‘‘It’s also important that anyone who is offered Yorkshire Stone under suspicious circumstances reports this to police. The market for stolen goods of any description is significantly reduced if people are not prepared to look the other way.

‘‘Information can also be given anonymously to the independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”