It's the battle of the boards

PUBLISHED: 14:36 13 July 2006 | UPDATED: 11:53 04 May 2010

MP JIM Paice has joined the battle to save Ely s A boards fearing traders are being discriminated against by council officials. He is worried that shops are closing in the city centre and stressed that businesses need to be able to advertise properly. M

MP JIM Paice has joined the battle to save Ely's 'A' boards fearing traders are being discriminated against by council officials.

He is worried that shops are closing in the city centre and stressed that businesses need to be able to advertise properly.

Mr Paice wants to see the district and county councils find a compromise to allow city centre advertising.

But both local authorities have hit back claiming they are working within the law on guidelines issued nationally by the Government to protect pedestrians from the hazard of 'A' boards.

Ely Traders' Association members called in Mr Paice after county council raids stripped the city's independent shops of their free-standing advertising 'A' boards earlier this year.

They complained that the boards were no more hazardous than council street furniture and that one rule should apply to all for fairness and consistency.

Now South East Cambridgeshire MP, Mr Paice has backed their claims that they have been discriminated against, and suggested that the district and county council get together to implement a code of practice to "allow for sensible use" of the boards.

He said in a letter to East Cambridgeshire District Council's chief executive, John Hill: "I am very much aware of the issue of pedestrian safety but, of course, it equally applies to the very considerable amount of street furniture and signage which has recently been erected in the city centre and Ely traders, therefore, have some justifiable complaint that they are being discriminated against.

"I am extremely concerned at the decline in retail facilities in the city centre and I feel sure that assisting those remaining shops to advertise their presence would be of some benefit."

County council raids in March saw Ely and Littleport's 'A' boards loaded onto contractor's lorries and taken away in a move that infuriated local businesses - many of whom said the county council gave them no warning about the operation.

Ely Traders' Association chairman, Elaine Griffin-Singh, welcomed Mr Paice's action.

"It's refreshing to see that someone is taking our concerns seriously," she said.

Will Marston, who took the boards advertising his Lollipop Animation business into his shop to spare them from the cull, said: "It's very encouraging to hear that our MP is supporting local businesses."

East Cambridgeshire District Council, however, has replied to the MP, saying it would be unable to implement Mr Paice's proposed code of conduct because the use of 'A' boards is illegal under the Highways Act.

Alison Callaby, who is the traders' liaison at the district council, said: "We have developed strong links with the traders and we are looking into alternatives to the use of 'A' boards, like an independent Ely shoppers' guide and wall-mounted boards."

She said the recent East Cambridgeshire District Retail Study demonstrated that Ely's retail sector is in good health, contrary to Mr Paice's warning of its decline.

"We are committed to ensuring that our retail centres remain attractive," she said.

Cambridgeshire County Council reiterated the message that a code of conduct would be unworkable.

"It is illegal to put up advertising signs on the public highway," a spokesman said, adding that permission for signage can be legitimately sought from the district council.

"Any policy that allows advertising signs would open up the taxpayers to liability if anybody tripped over a sign - we already receive complaints."

He said that independent traders were not being discriminated against.

"It is within the law to put up signs and other street furniture such as bollards for the benefit of the public, and bins to prevent litter blowing around in what is an historic city centre - it is not legal to put up advertising signs."

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

'A' Boards, are they a necessary advertising tool for local businesses or a safety hazzard for pedestrians?

Write to: the Ely Standard, 38 Market Street, Ely Cambs CB7 4LS or email the editor at: debbie.davies@archant.co.uk

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