Delight for sign fight owners, after council backs down

THE owners of a Widdrington business have spoken of their delight after a compromise was reached in its signs row with Northumberland County Council.

More than 1,000 customers signed petitions to support The Country Barn Farm Shop and Coffee Shop in response to the authority ordering it to take down four promotional boards alongside the A1068 Morpeth to Amble road as they were deemed in breach of legislation.

This left Hugh and Sarah Annett fearful that their award-winning business, which employs 32 people, would close as it has been feeling the effects of the recession in the past two years.

As the shop is located on Widdrington Farm, the signs have been crucial in attracting new customers.

But following accusations of heavy-handedness after the council took similar action against other businesses and community groups across the county, it agreed to review its enforcement policy.

This will take a few months to complete so a meeting was held between the Annetts and planning officers to discuss the issue.

And the couple have been told that they can put two of their signs back up, allowing them to take advantage of the remainder of the summer tourist season.

They will be installed on posts, rather than on trailers where they were before.

Mrs Annett said: “We’re over the moon that we can put two signs up, although our goal is still to have all four back in place.

“The officers made a good suggestion to put them on posts as the boards will be more visible and people won’t have to strain to see a trailer on the ground.

“Thankfully the council has seen some common sense. In the period when the signs were down, sales went down by approximately 20 per cent compared to the same period last year, which shows how imperative they are to our survival.

“We also said they should look at improving their own signs to help bring more tourists to the area. For example, those that just say Druridge will confuse visitors who don’t know the area well as they won’t automatically connect the word with a beach or country park.”

She added that everyone at The Country Barn is grateful to the customers who signed the petitions and members of the public who telephoned to give messages of support.

Acting Head of Development at Northumberland County Council Karen Ledger said: “As previously reported, we have put on hold further enforcement action against unauthorised signs pending the outcome of the review, except where we receive complaints or there is a serious highways safety issue. However, businesses should be aware that it remains an offence to erect an unauthorised sign.

“Our officers have been in discussions with the owners of The Country Barn about their signage requirements.”