Signs of sympathy

UNDER-fire council officers have been told to take a more sympathetic and positive approach to roadside advertising, following a furore involving rural businesses and village shows.

Glanton Show and the Country Barn Farm shop at Widdrington were among those threatened with enforcement action by Northumberland County Council over signs they had erected to promote themselves to passers-by.

The resulting barrage of public outcry, however, led council chief executive Steve Stewart to launch an internal review six weeks ago, with an immediate halt on any further action being taken.

And at the authority’s North Area Committee on Monday, councillors were told that a new strategy was being drafted as a result of the review, which would focus more on assisting local businesses and organisations with ‘positive guidance’ rather than ‘prescriptive control’.

Area development manager Peter Rutherford also said it would be written in ‘plain English’ to make sure it was clear what would be permitted. He said: “There is a need to revisit the enforcement strategy and see how we need to address the tensions between advertisements in the open countryside and the needs of rural businesses to attract customers.

“I think, looking forward, we have to take a positive approach rather than a purely prescriptive one in negotiating with businesses and giving clearly-written advice in all cases.”

Coun Robert Arckless said: “I welcome the idea of having a plain English guide. Trying to find clear guidance on this issue has not been easy.”

Coun Richard Dodd added: “A lot of rural shows are under massive threat because of the likes of health and safety law, insurance costs and now, when they advertise themselves, the county council. Some of our rural communities are dying.

“We have to stop putting barriers up and make things more proactive. Let’s make it work, rather than making it fail.”

Coun David Towns said: “We’re talking about rural businesses which are really struggling. In Widdrington, the Country Barn is probably the biggest employer.

“The public perception of how the council handled this is not favourable.”