Shropshire Council has been flirting with plans to licence every A-Board in the county. Those ideas didn’t get through the Place Overview Committee yesterday. Everyone agreed that a licencing and charging scheme was the wrong approach. Instead, the committee asked officers to work with local councillors and communities to draw up clearer guidance on where A-Boards can be placed to ensure safety of pavement users, including those with limited mobility and visual impairment.
We agreed it would more effective for responsibility for “policing” of A-Boards should be devolved from Shropshire Council to town councils.
This is good news. Shropshire Council should not overregulate and we should manage the day-to-day business of the town ourselves.
A-Boards have long been contentious in Ludlow. At times, the passion, arguments and action over A-Boards were out of all proportion to the problem. That was a decade ago. A-Boards in our town centre and others have been increasing since. It is timely to have a review of policy.
How much of a problem are A-Boards?
Shropshire Council only gets six complaints a year about A-Boards. But they can be a hazard for people with partial sight and limited mobility. Most A-Boards do not present a risk to pavement users but a few are placed where they restrict access.
I conducted a survey of Ludlow A-Boards last Monday. There were 98 in the town centre, of which more than 20 were on private property or covered by a Shropshire Council pavement licence.
I suggested during the committee debate that there are around 1,000 A-Boards in market towns across Shropshire. No one had any better estimate but we quickly reached agreement that Shropshire Council can’t regulate at this level. With its limited and diminishing resources, the council must and should concentrate on strategic issues.
The strategic issue here is ensuring public safety on the highway while allowing retailers to advertise their businesses. Shropshire Council is highways authority for the county so it has a responsibility to set out the overall parameters. The plan is to issue new and clearer guidelines. These will be discussed with town and parish councils, approval by the cabinet and issued for public consultation.
We only briefly debated what might be in those guidelines. In Oswestry and Bridgnorth, many A-Boards are chained to railings and lampposts and are left out all day and night. It is likely that this practice will be banned and A-Boards will not be allowed to remain on the highway overnight. A minimum pavement between an A-Board and the kerb will undoubtedly be required. That is likely to be a minimum of 1.2 metres with a preference for 2.0 metres. Should there be a maximum size for A-Boards? Probably. Other rules that might be considered include banning kerbside A-Boards and those placed in the middle of the pavement.
A-Boards in the middle of the pavement could be banned
We don’t want to make the guidelines overly bureaucratic but we do want to ensure they are very clear. That’s what retailers need. If they know the rules, they can work within them.
The committee agreed that the day-to-day oversight of A-Boards would best be devolved to town councils. They are on the spot and most have local workforces. I am confident that this is the right approach. Day-to-day management of our market towns should be the responsibility of the towns themselves not Shirehall. Devolution of responsibility could only take place after consultation, so it depends on how willing town councils are to take on this responsibility.
That might not be the only responsibility devolved. Town councils could also get responsibility for regulating Christmas lights, buntings and banners. Yesterday’s Place Overview Committee agreed that the responsibility for approving these should be transferred to town and parish councils. This would simplify matters a lot in Ludlow. The town council already erects most of the lights, banners and buntings and it is better it self-regulates than having to go through Shirehall as at present.