Sign of strange times at County Hall

I MAKE no apology for returning to two subjects that have dominated this column in recent weeks.

Both are concerning Northumberland County Council, which seems to have no regard for business in rural areas or that it is unfair to charge parking fees in one area and not another.

Let us take up the first point about rural business. As we all know by now, county council officials are having a purge on road-side signs which advertise businesses situated off main road or local village events.

Those who erect such signs are told to take them down or face enforcement action and a bill. This is despite the fact that in some cases, such as local events, the signs have gone up year after year and are very much temporary.

For businesses, we are told that some signs have been in existence for up to eight years. Suddenly, those who have never had to try to earn their living from a business are threatening those who do.

There are also, as the Gazette headline said last week, ‘signs of hypocrisy’. The county council does allow signs on roundabouts if you cough up a fee despite other signs being pulled down because according to the same county council they are a traffic hazard.

I was heading out of Rothbury at the weekend when I spotted a large sign which had just been erected at the entrance to Cragside. Had the National Trust got approval, I wondered, or were they sticking up two fingers to the planners?

Trying to earn a penny when the trade is often seasonable is hard enough without some zealous person in County Hall, on a good salary paid for by the taxpayer, going around trying their best to kill off rural businesses.

It is time that someone in County Hall got a grip of the situation or there may not be any rural businesses left to pay their salaries or council taxes.

Surely all it needs is a simple compromise to allow signs to promote these businesses where they are not a danger.

As one person in business I spoke to at the weekend put it: “The council should be trying to help local businesses not trying to kill them off.”

THE other subject is, of course, car parking. Labour tried to make car parking free throughout Northumberland with a motion last week. Not surprisingly it failed.

The controlling Lib Dems, with Tory abstentions, were able to keep the status quo, ie rural towns pay but urban areas in the south east do not, for the time being.

We are told that they will come to a decision on this sometime in the future. Do not hold your breath.

Elections are being held in 2013.

Can you see the Lib Dems, who hold the majority of seats in the south east urban areas where free parking exists, voting to impose parking fees? Of course you can’t.

The Lib Dem leader’s argument is that free parking in rural and therefore tourist towns would cause traffic chaos. He obviously has not been to many rural areas of late.

There is already parking chaos, not because of the parking charges but because of the lack of spaces.

My prediction is that the best bet for rural areas is some sort of shopping permit which allows parking within certain hours of the day. But that is only a sop to keep us rural peasants happy.

FINALLY the bad news – I received my first Christmas catalogue last week. Exactly 168 shopping days left. It was from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds obviously wanting me to buy my Christmas cards early.

Two days later, I noticed that two famous London stores, Selfridges and Harrods (you can tell I only shop in the best places), were opening their Christmas in-house stores.

Give me strength. I have already had all the catalogues for next year’s cruising holidays, walking holidays and city breaks. Soon there will be no such thing as anticipation as we roll everything into one.