No warning by A-board raiders'

A COUNTY council hijack of A boards in Ely – which saw the city s advertising boards seized in an operation by contractors last week – has been unanimously condemned by small businesses. We reported in last week s Ely Standard that the highways departm

A COUNTY council "hijack" of A boards in Ely - which saw the city's advertising boards seized in an operation by contractors last week - has been unanimously condemned by small businesses.

We reported in last week's Ely Standard that the highways department, following a directive from central Government, stripped the city centre of all of the distinctive self-standing advertising boards - in some cases without any prior warning to the owners.

City councillor Ron Bradney, who owns two businesses in Ely, has this week likened the county council's actions to a "hijacking", arguing that the boards serve an important purpose for the city's independent traders.

"We are being persecuted by the people who should be helping us," he said, adding that the authority should have given traders a warning in the form of a sticker.

Manager of the Lamb Hotel Paul Leitch said he was outraged that he did not know his A-boards and a banner advertising the hotel for Mothers' Day had been taken down until he saw them disappear in the back of a truck.

"As a mark of courtesy or respect they could have phoned me," he said.

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"It is ill-thought-out - the county council is supposed to be there to support local business.

"If there's a new directive, we should have been told about it; this is not some kind of secret society - if we are not allowed them, then that's fine, but tell us we are not allowed them."

Mr Leitch said he had not received a letter to warn him of the impending action.

One local businessman went one further and reclaimed his advertising board from the huge stack of confiscated boards at the highways department at Witchford.

Gordon Day, who owns Ely Funeral Services, and whose wife Margaret runs The Little Shop in High Street Passage, said: "I eventually found my sign and one of the men in the office came out and said that I'd have to pay £20."

Mr Day refused to pay the fine and took his sign anyway, but he accepts that there will be consequences for his actions.

He said he would "wait and see" as to whether or not he would put the sign back up.

The Ely Traders' Association held an open meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.

Association chairman Elaine Griffin-Singh said: "The feeling is that it was totally heavy-handed - some shops had letters and some shops had visits and some had both.

"Some shops didn't know anything about it until their boards were taken down."

Both Mr Day and Leitch said there were inconsistencies in the council's actions and that some shops had been targeted while others had not - a view echoed by Cllr Bradney.

"It seems that there is one rule for the traders and one for council-funded facilities," he said.

"There has been a banner advertising Paradise Swimming pool hung in the Market Place for the last two months - I am sure if any trader in Ely tried to do the same it would be snatched just like the A-boards."

The Ely Traders' Association agreed at its meeting on Monday that it would call on East Cambridgeshire District Council to provide some form of traders liaison officer, who would help to advise small businesses on issues like legal advertising.

The county council has defended its actions, stressing that businesses were given plenty of warning before boards were confiscated and that the move was based on a Government directive given to local authorities across the country.

Richard Preston, head of network management at the council, said: "We want to see businesses do well and urge anybody who wants to advertise to contact his or her local planning authority for advice about how to do this legally."

Cllr Bradney said that this process would be harmful to smaller operations.

"It is disingenuous for Richard Preston to advise us to contact the planning authority as they will just quote the rules and charge £125 for an application," he said.

"This is a political situation so I would like to ask the two Ely Lib Dem county council councillors why they allowed this to happen in the city they were elected to represent."

A spokesman for the county council said: "Our primary aim is to protect the safety of the public - we are not persecuting small businesses and we do understand the problems they face."


Are A-boards a necessary and useful advertising tool or a hazard? Do you think the county council acted unfairly, and how can small businesses compete in today's world? Do they get enough support from the local authority and as a shopper do you support your local independent shops, if not, why not?

Write to: The Ely Standard (local shops) 38 Market Street, Ely, Cambs, CB7 4LS or email the editor at: