Pelican crossing controls in Tonbridge are being stolen and 'sold on eBay as doorbells'

By ajsmith@thekmgroup.co.uk (Alan Smith)

Push-button control boxes at a pelican crossing have repeatedly been stolen – and one theory is they are being sold on eBay as doorbells.

The crossing in Shipbourne Road, Tonbridge, has been targeted multiple times by thieves over the past year.

The vandalised pelican crossing in Shipbourne Road is now out of order

The thefts have sometimes left live wires exposed, presenting a safety risk.

Each time, the crossing has had to be temporarily closed until Kent County Council could replace the boxes.

The crossing is used by many school children traversing the busy A227 to get to the nearby Hugh Christie School.

Two other pelican crossings in Tonbridge – at The Ridgeway and at Hadlow College – have also been targeted but less frequently.

Cllr Mark Hood (Green) raised the matter at a meeting of the Tonbridge Joint Transportation Board on Monday.

Cllr Mark Hood says the public's help is needed

He said: "There has been a sustained campaign of vandalism on the crossing close to White Cottage Road with the operating panels repeatedly removed, exposing the live terminals.

"It is inconvenient for the people living nearby, it is extremely dangerous and it is also extremely expensive. It's cost the county £32,000 so far."

KCC highways officer Toby Butler confirmed: "We have for over a year suffered repeated vandalism.

"There have been occasions where the whole yellow push-button box has been removed leaving live wires exposed, so clearly it becomes an urgent issue for us to get out there and attend.

"This crossing is desperately needed for the school children and others to use. It's clearly there for a very important reason.

Highways officer Toby Butler

"Tonbridge is the only place in the county where this kind of behaviour is happening.

"We've been replacing the push-button units each time and the cost for each pair is £3,500."

Mr Butler said the thefts had occurred so frequently that at one stage KCC ran out of replacements, meaning the crossing remained out of order while spares were ordered.

The Shipbourne Road crossing has bags over the traffic lights after the latest theft last week.

Mr Butler said the police had been involved but had not offered any particular help.

The crossing post without its control box

Neither the police nor KCC have any mobile CCTV cameras to deploy. The borough council is in the process of sourcing some.

Mr Butler said: "They would have to go on lamp column that would require structural load testing before the equipment could be attached."

KCC had also looked at installing tracker devices in the control boxes to see where they were going and had looked into modifying the boxes to make them more difficult to steal but both ideas have been dismissed as impractical.

Mr Butler said: "We think they might be being sold on eBay and being used as fancy doorbells.

"When people press the button, the 'Wait' sign lights up."

Each theft costs £3,500 to repair

Mr Butler admitted he was stumped to know what to do.

He said: "We may have to downgrade the crossing to just a zebra crossing without push-button controls. Other than that, I'm at a bit of a loss."

Cllr Matt Boughton, the leader of Tonbridge and Malling council, was equally baffled. He said: "Nothing comes to mind that can be done that hasn't already been investigated."

But Cllr Hood said: "We don't want to see the crossing downgraded – it's very well used.

"Up until this point, we have been reluctant to expose the matter in a public forum in case it provoked copy-cat activity elsewhere, but now we must.

A pelican crossing control box being advertised on eBay

"I appeal to all residents and motorists in the area to keep their eyes open.

"If they see any suspicious behaviour by this crossing – or any crossing – report it to the police at once.

"We must catch the person or persons doing this or we will all continue to suffer."

When KentOnline had a look on eBay, three "pre-used" pelican crossing control boxes were being offered for sale, two at £45 and one at £22.