A-Boards can be a hazard to the partially sighted. Boards can be a problem for families with child buggies. They can be unsightly. But they are also essential for local businesses, many of which are on side alleys.
Most people I have spoken to do not want to get rid of A-Boards. They want more care in where they are positioned. My proposed guidelines on resolving this have been ignored.
Having rejected charges for A-Boards in December 2018, Shropshire Council is now about to reverse its position. It aiming to charge £213 an A-Board for the first year and £111 a year thereafter. Only one A-Board will be allowed per premises. This is mindless bureaucracy driven by officers and councillors who have lost their understanding of the importance of the independent retail market to rural market towns like Ludlow. They are determined to pursue this tax and ruin policy.
The change of policy will mean an extra charge of £557 for each business using A-Boards in Ludlow over the next five years.
I will oppose the move, along with the Ludlow Chamber of Commerce at the Performance Management Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday.
This tax on businesses, most of whom are independent traders, is unnecessary. It is driven by the demands of councillors outside Ludlow, especially Shrewsbury. Because they perceive they have a problem, they are pressing for measures that will increase the regulatory and financial burden on independent businesses across the county.
We have had issues with A-Boards in Ludlow. A few have caused obstruction on the highway.
But any A-Boards that are causing obstruction are already illegal:
“Shropshire Council retains the right to move, remove and enforce the policy criteria to ensure safe passage on the county’s highways which fall within the remits of the Highways Act 1980 and the Town & Country Planning Act 1992 undertaken by Environmental maintenance teams as part of their current duties.”
Some boards are in the wrong place. We should not allow A-Boards and other boards to be propped against the Grade-I listed Buttercross. It is a major heritage asset and should be respected.
Shropshire Council has long established guidelines on A-Boards. They can best be described as minimalist. Pretty useless might be a better description.
Shropshire councillors set up a task and finish group (T&F) on signs, boards and banners a couple of years ago. My view was that we needed clearer guidelines. We did not need extra regulation and charging. But from the outset, there has been pressure within the council to regulate businesses ever more tightly and charge them for the privilege. This has been supported by several councillors, especially those in Shrewsbury, who do not understand the fragile business environment deeply rural market towns like ours face.
I have always been in favour of tightening guidance on what can be placed on the highway. I don’t want a total ban. I don’t want any A-Boards getting in the way, tripping people up or blocking wheelchairs and pushchairs. I just want common sense. We need to use street signage to promote the businesses we love that have small shopfronts or are tucked away down alleys.
There is a proposed one year delay on these charges and commencement of enforcement. It was expected that would mean introduction in April 2021. But that is now less than a year away. A delay until April 2022 would mean the imposition of these unwarranted regulations and charges would occur after the next local elections. That could be a good idea. Conservative and Labour members backing this charge will have to defend their unnecessary tax on the doorstep as businesses struggle to recover from coronavirus.
We don’t need this mindless bureaucracy. We don’t want extra costs imposed on the independent retail traders. We just want some sensible guidance. Coronavirus has changed our economic world.
I will be calling for this proposal to be scrapped at the meeting of the Performance Management Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday. Ludlow Chamber of Commerce are also due to speak. I hope Ludlow Town Council will also speak.
My proposed guidelines were ignored. But for the record, here they are.
Draft A-Board guidelines
For the purpose of this policy A-Boards are freestanding advertising boards on the public highway, usually on pavements. The definition is not limited to boards of the traditional ‘A’ shape and covers all free standing boards. Flat boards leaning against the front wall of a business’s property are excluded, as are boards on private property.
Shropshire Council aims to encourage business growth and understands that businesses need to advertise. It supports appropriate use of A-Boards. However, the public realm in our market towns must be accessible and safe for all.
The highway must be kept clear to allow free passage of pedestrians, and where permitted, cyclists and vehicles. A-Boards must not form a hazard. Businesses placing A-Boards on the public highway must ensure that they do not impede partially sighted or blind pedestrians. Enough space must be provided for users of disability scooters, wheelchairs and pushchairs.
Shropshire Council does not require businesses to apply for permission for A-Boards. It does not charge a fee. This policy will be reviewed regularly. The council reserves its right under the Highways Act 1980 to remove any obstruction on the highway without notice.
Only one A-Board is allowed for each business. The exception to this policy is where businesses are located on alleys and other places off the highway, where a single and additional directional board can be used at the closest location on the highway. This must be no more than 500m from the business advertised. It must clearly indicate the direction of the business advertised.
Boards should be no more than 1.1m high. For boards on legs, for example the classic A-Board shape, the bottom of the board must be no higher than 10cm above the ground, preferably lower, to assist partially sighted pedestrians using walking sticks to guide their passage.
Boards must not be attached to street furniture or have any lighting or sound systems. They must be portable and not fixed to the highway.
A-Boards must not be left on the pavement outside the opening times of the business they serve or after 9pm.
A-Boards must be immediately outside the property being advertised, not at a remote location, such as the end of the street or the opposite side of the road. The exception is direction signs as set out above.
A-Boards must not impede the safe passage of pedestrians and, where allowed, cyclists and vehicles. A minimum 1.2 metres clearance on pavements and shared space must always be available.
A-Boards must not be positioned at the kerbside or in the middle of the pavement.
They should not prevent access to bus stops, taxi ranks or tactile paving and dropped kerbs.
Businesses should have respect for the historic environment. They should not place A-Boards where they distract from the views and settings of historic buildings.