A-Boards can be a hazard to the blind and partially sighted. They can be a problem for families with child buggies. But they are also essential for local businesses, many of which are on side alleys or not immediately in sight.
For the best part of a decade, we have endured a debate between “Love A-Boards” and “Hate A-Boards” in Ludlow. That debate could be moving towards an end after a Shropshire Council meeting next Friday.
I walked around the town centre yesterday and counted 98 A-Boards – 74 were on the public highway and 24 on private land. The debate is now on whether this is right for our town. The urgency of the debate is driven by Shropshire Council’s wish to regulate all A-Boards in the county and to charge retailers for the privilege of putting the signs on the highway. What the council is proposing comes across as overregulation.
Here are just some of the A-Boards Ludlow town centre yesterday. Some stand on the public highway. Some are on land owned by the business or the landlord. It’s a fantastic display. Many are carefully designed to portray the nature of the business. Some are simple but good-looking chalk boards. A few of the A-Boards and signs are rather naff.
Shropshire Council’s policy on A-Boards was agreed by Cabinet in February 2011 after pilots in Ludlow and Bridgnorth. The report notes the outcome of the pilots:
“It is widely acknowledged that the Bridgnorth scheme was successful, and in conjunction with support of the local town council and LJC, reduced the number of A-Boards. The Ludlow pilot was more problematic and met with some local resistance.” [see Note 1]
The essence of the current policy is that A-Boards must be placed safely and not obstruct people using pavements. It gives some guidance on location:
No more than two A-Boards are allowed for each business. The advertising board / object must relate to the trade of the premises and as a guide be placed along the front width of the retail outlet. The equipment must be fit for purpose and cause no potential hazard, nuisance or obstruction. A maximum of two advertising boards (which will include any advanced board or notification board) will be permitted per premise, if appropriate. Advanced directional advertising boards will be permitted away from the premises in special cases at the discretion of the coordination manager.
Advertising boards in certain areas maybe unacceptable, such as conservation areas because of the adverse impact that a proliferation of such displays can have upon a visual amenity or if a conflict with planning policy or guidance exists.
This is poorly drafted with confusing language. It is not clear whether an “advertising board / object” relates to a broader range of boards than A-Boards, for example, those leaning against the retail property. It doesn’t specify the clearance needed for wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
It does make clear that boards some distance from the business are allowed providing they are directional. They need to have an arrow.
The proposal for a revised policy
The Place Overview Committee on Friday will consider a paper from council officers. It is thin on detail but officers are seeking permission to:
Initiate a consultation period for interested internal and external parties to develop and comment on the criteria and conditions of an A-Board licence and possible enforcement practices. To gain committee’s agreement to consider with consultation of interested parties the use of ‘hanging boards’ which would advertise numerous businesses in one area on one board.
Officers have been looking at a new policy for a couple of years. During that time, a single resident has been pressing for a complete ban on A-Boards.  That resident wants Shropshire Council to emulate cities such as York that have an A-Board prohibition zone in the historic centre. Officers have provided no evidence that anyone else is concerned about A-Boards.
So how much will Shropshire Council charge? Officers have put forward the guidance for Liverpool as an exemplar. Liverpool City Council charges £50 a year for a pavement permit. We will be asking what charge Shropshire Council has in mind on Friday but permits are rather more expensive in Shropshire than most places, so I am not holding my breath at having a fee as low as £50. 
The Liverpool policy cites the need for two metres minimum clearance to allow full disability access. There is no suggestion that Shropshire Council is planning to introduce this. In my view, any policy should clearly repeat national guidelines in pavement access. 
“Placing ‘A’ Boards in sensitive areas, such as conservation areas or close to listed buildings, may be unacceptable. This is because of the adverse impact that the proliferation of such displays can have on visual amenity.”
There is another side to this. Historic towns can look too tidy. They can look too twee. They can look more like a museum than a thriving retail centre. I am unconvinced of the case for removing signs from the east side of the Buttercross.
My initial view
I need to listen to the case from officers and other councillors on Friday. It may be that towns like Shrewsbury are so clogged up with A-Boards that people cannot move around, though that has not been my experience.
There are different views on whether A-Boards are unsightly clutter or portray a thriving retail environment in Ludlow.
I accept there is an occasional problem with badly positioned and crowded A-Boards. The entrance to Parkway on Corve Street is often an example of this.
I think we need clearer guidelines. The guidance should specify a clear two metres clearance around an A-Board. A ban on A-Boards in the middle of pavements. A ban on A-Boards within half a metre of the kerb.
Advertisements for businesses down alleys should be grouped on a single board on the main road.
Ludlow Town Council might produce a design guide for A-Boards.
It is better that we go down the route of making the guidance stronger first. Businesses that contravene it should be warned. If they ignore the warning, their signs should be removed by the council.
 It is widely understood that the good burghers of Bridgnorth are more obedient than the rowdy rabble of burghers in Ludlow 🙂
 The name of the resident is given in a public council paper but I don’t think it appropriate to republish it.
 They presumably mean fines as highways officers already have the right to remove any obstructing objects on the highway.
 Shropshire Council charges £100 for an annual resident’s parking permit. Across the West Midlands the average charge is £35. In Liverpool, the first resident’s parking permit is free. Pavement permits to allow tables and chairs on the highway in Shropshire cost £135 for the first year and £50 annually thereafter.
 Government guidelines issued in 2005 but still applicable set the following standard:
A clear width of 2000mm allows two wheelchairs to pass one another comfortably. This should be regarded as the minimum under normal circumstances. Where this is not possible because of physical constraints 1500mm could be regarded as the minimum acceptable under most circumstances, giving sufficient space for a wheelchair user and a walker to pass one another. The absolute minimum, where there is an obstacle, should be 1000mm clear space. The maximum length of restricted width should be 6 metres. If there are local restrictions or obstacles causing this sort of reduction in width they should be grouped in a logical and regular pattern to assist visually impaired people.
The government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy. states at paragraph 4.26:
Local authorities are responsible for the design of their streets. It is for them to ensure any pedestrian environment scheme, including a shared space, is inclusive and that they meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.