'Another warning to shops over 'dangerous' A-boards'

Henley Standard ~ November 2011

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'It follows complaints from people with eyesight problems and parents using pushchairs that the street signs can be an obstruction.

Henley Town Council’s planning committee voted to send a letter to businesses in the town centre requesting that A-boards are not "oversized" and are "carefully" positioned.

It comes two years after the councillors threatened to enforce a zero-tolerance policy and remove any offending signs.

The threat of a ban was only lifted after protests by traders. Instead, the council sent out a copy of its guidelines on use of the signs, which businesses say attract customers.

Committee chairman Dieter Hinke said he had received complaints from residents using pushchairs that A-boards made it difficult to walk along the pavements. He personally had witnessed people stepping into the road to avoid a sign. Councillor Hinke said the letter was to remind businesses "that we have a responsibility to make sure people can use this town safely".

Councillor Elizabeth Hodgkin said the issue was always raised at the annual meeting of the Talking Newspaper by users. She said: "We have always had this situation where we have tried to be very fair and not gone out and moved every A-board. We are asking businesses to think about the residents before they put A-boards out."

The letter, which is in the name of town clerk Mike Kennedy, says: "Henley is a beautiful, historic market town with a thriving business and retail centre. However, Henley also has a number of narrow streets and pavements in the town centre, which means it can be difficult for pedestrians, wheelchair-users and parents with prams to navigate around its pavements, particularly when there is also street furniture such as lamposts and litter bins.

"The town council has received a number of complaints regarding A-boards advertising local businesses being placed on the pavements in the town centre which exacerbate the problem. Often these A-boards are too large and located in positions that restrict safe pedestrian access.

"The town council has asked that a letter be sent to all town centre businesses and retail units requesting that any A-boards be carefully placed, ensuring there is a 2m minimum width for pedestrian access and that A-boards are not oversized. The letter only addresses the immediate problems regarding public safety and A-boards and is not intended to be a general acceptance of the use of A-boards for advertising.

"We would, however, ask that you do give serious consideration to the size and positioning of your A-boards."

Mr Kennedy said the majority of businesses did their "utmost to preserve the historic nature of the town" but the number of A-boards was increasing.

Councillor Martin Akehurst said the letter was a "request for common sense". Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak asked what constituted an "oversized" A-board.

Cllr Hinke replied that there was an example outside the Catherine Wheel hotel in Hart Street. He added that once the letter had been sent out, the council would identify any businesses that were not following the guidelines.

Mr Kennedy said: "In law, of course, there should be nothing on the high street, no A-boards whatsoever. Oxfordshire County Council has delegated the responsibility to us and we have taken a pragmatic view and will exercise discretion."

In 2009, a petition with almost 500 signatures in support of A-boards was handed to the town council. It was organised by Lorraine Hillier, a Conservative town councillor, who uses a board to promote her Hot Gossip coffee house in Friday Street.

At the time, she said: "The A-boards are absolutely vital to businesses."

Conservative colleague David Nimmo Smith told the council to stop its "vendetta" against A-boards.

lBucaroo, a new boutique in Friday Street, has been refused permission for an A-board by South Oxfordshire District Council on the grounds that it would "add to a proliferation of inappropriate signage in a prominent location".