A war of words has broken out between Rothbury councillors over potentially obstructive street furniture outside businesses in the village.
At last week’s meeting, Coun Steven Bridgett said that any attempt by the parish council to raise concerns about the issue smacked of hypocrisy, because member Avril Graham had a mannequin and sign outside her shop, ‘on the narrowest footpath’ in Rothbury.
But Coun Jeff Sutton believed that wiping the issue off the agenda was stupidity, adding: “You’re basically saying to every disabled and elderly person, ‘sod you, the pavements are not for you’.”
Northumberland County Council has guidelines around street furniture to make paths safer and easier to negotiate.
For main pedestrian routes, there should be a minimum of two metres clear width of pavement and a desirable width of three and a half metres.
For secondary pedestrian routes, the minimum clear width is one-and-a-half metres, preferably two. It covers items including A-boards, pavement cafés and goods for sale.
Last year, Coun Sutton said he would conduct a review into street furniture in Rothbury, as some members felt that signage, tables, chairs and other items on pavements could potentially obstruct pedestrians.
At the time, Coun Bridgett said it would open up a can of worms and could harm businesses.
The topic has remained on the parish council’s agenda – and at last week’s meeting members found themselves locked in a heated debate.
Coun Graham, who runs Rainbow Yarns, on Bridge Street, said that she had received a letter from a Northumberland County Council officer, stating that he had asked nearby Tomlinson’s Cafe & Bunkhouse to remove bike racks from the road because they were causing an obstruction and were dangerous – but they were still there.
She added that Tomlinson’s has to contact the county council to see if it’s okay to keep its tables outside, because there was insufficient room for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
However, Coun Bridgett followed this up by proposing that the parish council writes to County Hall to say there is no longer an issue with street furniture in front of any business in Rothbury and ceases communication on the matter.
He added: “It makes us look very silly and very hypocritical as one member of this council is placing street furniture on the narrowest footpath in Rothbury, and yet we’re criticising all of the other businesses in Rothbury for having street furniture.”
Coun Graham responded by saying that the mannequin was no longer outside her shop and the sign was right against the wall.
Coun Bridgett bit back: “It was there over the Easter weekend. Three businesses contacted me to ask if it was one rule for businesses in the community and another for parish-council members.”
Coun Graham responded: “That is how I looked at it as well because if it was okay for other people to do it, then I don’t see why I couldn’t do it.
“I was hoping that the council would come along and ask me to remove it, in which case I could point out that everybody seemed to be doing it. It has to be one rule for everybody.”
Coun Jeff Sutton accused Coun Bridgett of nitpicking and having a personal agenda, adding: “You can’t just take the rules of the county council because it suits your agenda. If you scrap it, you might as well say parking on the pavement is okay and you’re all right to leave everything lying about where you like.”
But the majority of parish councillors voted in favour of Coun Bridgett’s suggestion.
Coun Sutton said: “It’s one hell of a bad attitude. This part of the agenda was a forgone conclusion before it was put across this table.”