New county guidance for advertising signs

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

Proposed new guidance has been produced by Northumberland County Council in relation to a major issue raised by blind and partially sighted people.

A-boards have been used for a number of years in an attempt to attract shoppers and pedestrians to business properties.

But in recent years they have grown in number and the authority says it has received an increased number of complaints about the outdoor advertising items.

Members of the Northumberland (Low Vision) Action Group (NAG) have repeatedly raised concerns, with Morpeth said by the group to be a particular hotspot.

Following discussions with the group, RNIB, business bodies and other organisations, the council has sought to find a way to continue supporting the local economy while ensuring all residents can use streets and paths without obstruction.

A covering letter by its infrastructure manager Ruth Bendell says rather than authorising items such as A-boards and goods displays, it will ‘prioritise enforcement of unauthorised obstructions on the highway’.

Relevant groups and organisations, including parish and town councils, have been asked to comment on the proposed guidance.

It includes a section which includes the following: ‘Obstructions should be placed so as to leave clear pedestrian routes, for example, by ensuring a consistent ‘shoreline’ of A-boards along either the front or back of the footway.

‘It is recognised that in certain circumstances, available space will not be sufficient to achieve the desirable minimum widths. A judgement will therefore need to be taken based on available width and pedestrian flows.

‘However, it should be noted that there will be situations where given the available footway width and pedestrian flows, it is not considered ‘safe’ to allow any unauthorised obstructions in the highway.’

In response to the document, a NAG spokesman said: “We welcome the council’s commitment to help blind and partially sighted people maintain their independence by being able to walk along the streets in the towns of Northumberland.

“Discussions have been protracted but we now hope that at long last some action will be taken.

“However, for blind and partially sighted people there are a range of barriers to independence. We would like to see all A-boards disappear from the streets of towns in Northumberland.

“We are concerned that the proposed guidance is somewhat woolly, using words like ‘reasonable’,’possible’ and ‘appropriate’ and feel that this may lead to disputes between shopkeepers and the council.”

Earlier this year, a Morpeth Chamber of Trade working group discussed the issue with members of the action group.

Chamber spokesman John Beynon said: “We have approached and are talking to many of the businesses concerned, obviously realising in these difficult economic times that they rely on A-boards for advertising.

“Rather than a blanket ban, we would like to come up with a proactive solution that satisfies everyone’s needs and by working with the council and businesses, we can be ahead of the game and advertise Morpeth as a place to spend time in a safe environment.”