Height ruling is not a sign of the times

PUBLISHED: 14:29 13 July 2006 | UPDATED: 11:53 04 May 2010

The St Ives Complementary Health Centre on London Road

The St Ives Complementary Health Centre on London Road

ANYONE who has opened a new business knows there are many hurdles to jump. But a gentleman horse-rider wearing a top hat would not necessarily be high on the list. When Liz Houghton opened the St Ives Complementary Health Centre on London Road, she wanted

ANYONE who has opened a new business knows there are many hurdles to jump. But a gentleman horse-rider wearing a top hat would not necessarily be high on the list.

When Liz Houghton opened the St Ives Complementary Health Centre on London Road, she wanted a particular sign to announce the new business.

But her chosen signwriter, Alex Thurston, of Wilburton-based Image Signs, assured her that she would not get planning consent.

A centuries-old law required that any sign over the public highway must be at a height that enabled a horseman wearing a top hat to pass safely under it. So that was what she applied for, and Huntingdonshire planners duly obliged.

But what was this archaic legislation that put yet another obstacle in the way of budding entrepreneurs? And was it something MPs, Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) and Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire), both of whom are on the House of Commons committee investigating it, put right in the massive Company Law Reform Bill that is now before Parliament?

"I was told it had to be at least eight feet above the highway because of this ancient law," Mrs Houghton said. "But we couldn't find a rider in a top hat to test it.

"The sign's probably not as big as we would have liked, but it's fine."

The planners were bewildered. Huntingdonshire District Council suggested it might have been something the highway authority had insisted on.

Cambridgeshire County Council highway engineer Richard Kingston was equally perplexed. "Signs need to be at a height that cyclists can pass underneath, but they don't often wear top hats in my experience."

His colleague Richard Preston, the county's acknowledged expert on such arcane matters, said there were height regulations, but they depended on the status of the highway.

Since the sign was over the pavement it would not have needed to be able to accommodate an articulated lorry.

"There may be some ancient legislation, but none that I know of," he said. "We try to take a practical approach."

Mr Thurston, who looks after Ely's much-lauded wrought-iron public loo signs, pointed the finger at planners at East Cambridgeshire District Council.

But ECDC spokesman Sean Gallagher said: "It may be that someone mentioned that, until the First World War, it was the case that there had to be headroom for a carriage driven by someone in a top hat. But our planners wouldn't have said it was the case now."

"There may have been some confusion here."

INFO: The centre offers an array of complementary therapies from acupuncture to yoga. Details on 01480 492088 or www.stiveshealth.co.uk/

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