A COUNCIL has been accused of hypocrisy after threatening to take a village show committee to court for its ‘dangerous’ sign when its own cause more of a distraction.
Northumberland County Council wrote to Glanton Show committee warning of prosecution if it failed to remove its banner from the side of the A697 within five days, as it was deemed dangerous to drivers.
But now the council has come under fire after claims that its own signs fall into the same category.
County Coun Steven Bridgett who represents Glanton, said: “It is utter hypocrisy. The county council sells advertising on its roundabouts.
“Yet it uses the excuse that the Glanton sign is dangerous when its own are difficult to read and more distracting.
“The council is happy as long as it’s getting money from it.
“But it is targeting organisations which rely on these signs for publicity.”
John Swanson, vice-chairman of Glanton Show, added: “You see adverts on roundabouts everywhere and you can’t read them.
“If you did try to, you would end up in the middle of the roundabout.
“Our sign is not dangerous. It is behind the sight-line and will be taken down the day after the show.”
Despite shows putting up banners for events for years, government planning policy states that temporary advertisments have to be a maximum of 0.6 sq m and the Glanton sign fell just outside this.
But the committee has never had a problem in the past.
Mr Swanson added that the sign helps the show to attract visitors from all over the county and further afield.
He added: “We fully understand that legislation has to exist to prevent the proliferation of unwanted signage on roads, especially in Northumberland.
“However, this show exists for the people who live in north Northumberland and further away.”
Jon Radgick, chairman of Glanton Parish Council, has written an open letter to Liz Donaldson, senior monitoring and enforcement officer at County Hall, who sent the original letter to the show (see Page 10).
“It has never been a problem in the past and it is exactly the same sign in the same place,” he said.
“We are also going to write to Jeff Reid, leader of the county council, and express the parish council’s dismay that county resources are being used in such a way. It is a community event and it is pretty clear that they are temporary signs. To take it to the extreme and go to court is stupid. They would be down long before the court hearing anyway.
“They just need to use a bit of common sense.”
Mr Radgick’s open letter was also posted on Glanton’s village website and has received numerous responses – all in favour of the show.
One from Tina Meikle said: “I find it hypocritical in the extreme that the council is mindful to prosecute over the signs for the Glanton Show. The council themselves have numerous signs on the A697 – is this one rule for them and another for the rural communities?”
The controversy has also caused a rethink for other village show committees.
Ian Blakey, chairman of Whittingham Show, said it will not be putting a banner up this year after finding out from the council that it is too big - despite having used it every years previously.
“In the past we have never got planning permission and it has not been a problem,” he said.
“From our point of view as we have spoken to the council there isn’t an issue and we can put other signs up.
“But under normal circumstances we would have just put them all up and wouldn’t have asked about it.”
Anthony Murray, councillor for Wooler described the whole situation as ‘ludicrous’.
“I know I am a member of the planning committee and I know we have got to be conscious in what we to,” he said.
“But this is a temporary sign advertising a village event which has gone on for years. It would be desperate if this has to be taken down and they have to find other ways to publicise themselves.
“I feel as a councillor I have to stand up against the council and say that I do not agree with them.
“Because of the size of the sign it doesn’t distract traffic - in fact it is easier to see it.
“The worst scenario is that by not allowing these signs it could kill-off village shows. All of these shows are run by volunteers on a tight budget and they have to publicise themselves in the best way possible.”
Louise Kirkwood, secretary of Simonside Country Fair said it was ‘ absolutely potty’ and said the fair depends on signs to bring people. “We couldn’t replace that kind of publicity,” she said.
Caroline Bruce, county council corporate director of local services, said: “Unauthorised signage can blight our countryside and compromise highway safety and so we have to enforce any inappropriate signage – we get many complaints from members of the public about unauthorised signs.
“However, we realise that there is a balance between meeting the needs of local businesses and protecting the environment and highway safety. We are reviewing our enforcement policy and this will be complete in the Autumn.
“Under certain conditions small signs promoting fairs, fetes and charity events do not have to have consent, but organisers do need to talk to us – we try all the time to work with people to help them achieve what they want.”
In regards to roundabout signs, she said: “Like many other councils Northumberland does have sponsored signs on some of its roundabouts in the county. These are subject to rigid criteria.”