‘They will drive us out of business’

Sarah Annett from The County Barn at Widdrington.
Sarah Annett from The County Barn at Widdrington.

CONCERNED owners of a farm business, which has been described by customers as the ‘Harrods of the north’, say it is under threat after being forced to remove vital advertising signs from their land.

Sarah and Hugh Annett are in a battle with Northumberland County Council after the authority ordered them to take down four boards which promote their award-winning business, which has created 32 jobs.

And the couple, who run The Country Barn Farm Shop and Coffee Shop at Widdrington Farm, outside Widdrington Village, say the signs are crucial for attracting customers to their otherwise difficult-to-find location and their removal will have a huge impact on trade.

Sarah, 39, said: “The past two years in the shop have been extremely hard. We have had to make redundancies, cut hours dramatically, no pay rise has been given in the last two years and the future does not look good. To lose any potential business, especially at the start of the summer holidays where, in a business such as ours, we rely massively on passing tourism and trade, is not good at all.

“The possibility of 32 redundancies and buildings left to become white elephants does not sit well with us nor the local community. The cold hard truth is if we lose any more business we will be forced to close.

“As we are not on a main road, how else are we expected to be able to encourage customers to visit our shop that Northumberland County Council helped set up? So many of our customers state that they didn’t even realise we were here – it was purely the signs in the fields that led them to come off the main road and locate us. Otherwise they would have continued on the coastal route none the wiser.”

The Annetts say they had the signs professionally made and had them fixed to moveable farm equipment, which was painted, and the boards were then placed in their fields either side of the A1068 between Morpeth and Amble, advertising the business to drivers. They say that there have been no traffic accidents as a result of the signage.

But the county council claims that it acted following a complaint about the signs being an ‘eyesore’ and that they were in breach of legislation.

Sarah added: “By removing our signage, anyone using a satnav system will be directed up Castle Garth as NE61 5EA is the postcode for the whole of Widdrington Farm including The Country Barn shop.

“This will significantly increase road traffic through the currently quiet residential part of the village. Undoubtedly this will give the local residents a very good reason to be upset at the intrusion of increased traffic. Once again we took great time, care and thought into the location of our signs so as to guide traffic past Castle Garth and onto the roundabout away from the residents also giving a more direct route to the shop.”

Since having to remove the signs last week, the couple have launched a petition which has attracted more than 100 signatures in their favour, they have received emails from strangers who are backing their corner, are planning to appeal against the decision and they have taken their fight to Sir Alan Beith.

Sir Alan said: “In rural areas signs are absolutely vital for businesses trying to attract customers and our planners need to recognise how important this is for businesses to survive and thrive.”

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “We investigated these signs in response to a complaint that they are an eyesore to those using the main coastal route, and found that they are in breach of legislation.

“The business has been asked to remove the signs but does have the options of applying for either advertisement consent or for a white on brown tourist sign.

“We have provided information about these to the owner.”