It was a good decision. A task and finish group set up by Shropshire Council had recommended that hefty annual charges should be imposed on businesses for having A-Boards outside their property. The brakes were put on that proposal at the council’s cabinet yesterday councillors expressed unease about yet another charge on small businesses, especially at a time when they will be struggling due to recover from Covid-19.
I remain opposed to charges for A-Boards but we need stronger guidance on where they are placed. We should only introduce charges if retailers don’t follow those new guidelines A-Boards.
Unfortunately, the task and finish group, of which I was member, did not produce sufficiently robust guidelines on where A-Boards should be placed. The cabinet yesterday saw this guidance though did not discuss it:
- There should be a maximum of one board per premises, irrespective of the number of businesses within the premises. This would minimise the risk of too many boards creating an obstruction.
- The board should be placed against the wall of the property. This would provide consistency of placement that would be useful to pedestrians with limited mobility.
- The board should be sufficiently heavy so it does not blow over, should be a maximum size, and must always have a tap rail to the base. This allows visually impaired pedestrians to navigate footpaths more safely by identifying boards in good time.
- There would be a one-year period of grace once the policy came into force, to allow businesses time to purchase appropriate boards.
These rules might work in Shrewsbury but they won’t work in Ludlow where many of the A-Boards advertise businesses tucked into alleyways. The recommendation was that Shropshire Council draft and consult on a policy for A-Boards. I think the task and finish group should have drawn up the policy. Here are my ideas.
The mood of the meeting was against charges for A-Boards.
Claire Wild, chair of the Performance Management Scrutiny Committee told the cabinet that the “report was completed in a different time.” Joyce Barrow, chair of the task and finish group into Signs, Boards and Banners Policy, said that one part of the recommendations could go ahead quickly. That is increasing costs for housing development signs, those yellow signs that point people towards their future homes, it could bring in a considerable amount of money. But in the current situation: “It would be totally unfair, devasting actually, for these businesses to take on board these costs proposing here. I would like to see it delayed by 12 months… or even longer. It needs looking at in more depth.”
Gwilym Butler, portfolio holder for Communities, Place Planning and Regulatory Services, responded:
“Talking about the A-Boards. This was pre-Covid. There are obviously different issues in Shrewsbury and Oswestry, and the other market towns. There are also issues on the cost implications that we haven’t bottomed out… and what those cost implications would be in relations to multinationals such as Marks and Spencer against small businesses of 500 square feet and they trade up a ginnel.
“We need to have a policy that is not one size fits all. That different parts of Shropshire can bring in what they need around market towns.
“We need to put this on the backburner. We need to understand what the new normal will be on our high streets.
Butler added: “I’ll accept the recommendations except for the A-Boards” of the report which we will return to after the pandemic and he will not put a timescale on that.
“Economic Development working with Regulatory Services are going around all the market towns to try and get those businesses up and running, to try and get the footfall on the high street safely. A-Boards need to be bottomed out in every town across this county.
“The initial conversations were about waivers allowing town and parish councils to change the policy locally. At this stage there was no option for councils to opt out of the policy should they not want it.”
My view is that we must have an option for town and parish councils to opt out of the policy.
Deputy leader Steve Charmley told the meeting
“We need to help businesses get on their feet. Places new restrictions on them is the last thing we need.”
Councillor Alan Mosely said that quite significant influence was going be given to town and parish councils, so it was a devolved system. “It is no use having rules and regulations about the A-Boards without enforcing them. So, the charges were designed to pay for that increased enforcement. So, there would be increases in charges as a consequence.”
For clarity, there are no charges for A-Boards on the highway at present.