TODAY the Gazette reveals how Northumberland County Council is breaching planning policy despite threatening court action against community groups and businesses who fall foul of the same rules.
Outrage erupted last week when Glanton Show committee was warned of prosecution over its banner which was deemed too big and distracting to motorists.
But we have discovered that the council’s own signs, which advertise businesses, are also bigger that the Government guidelines which state temporary signs can only be a maximum of 0.6 sq m and permanent signs 0.3 sq m before planning permission is required.
However, the county council has tried to defend its position by stating that the signs have ‘deemed consent’ under Class 1, Schedule 3 of The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007.
This reads: “An advertisement displayed wholly for the purpose of announcement or direction in relation to any of the functions of a government department, an agency of a government department, a local authority or Transport for London, or to the operation of a statutory undertaking or a public transport undertaking.”
But the county signs are not related to the functions of the local authority – they advertise businesses.
Under the quoted Act, signs can be up to 1.55 sq m – more than double their current size.
County councillor for Rothbury Steven Bridgett said: “If they are basing these signs on that Act then what they are doing is illegal. These are not announcements nor warnings, they are adverts.
“The council has double standards and we need to put our own house in order before we start targeting businesses and charitable and community organisations.”
The Gazette measured the council’s ‘supported by’ signs on the Willowburn Avenue roundabout, Alnwick, and found that while the advert that promotes a business is 150cm by 40cm and so 0.6 sq m – and therefore within the guidelines – the addition of the Northumberland County Council strip above makes it a third bigger than the rules allow.
The county council has agreed to suspend any further enforcement action on signs and banners until a review of policy has taken place – meaning no action is to be taken against Glanton Show committee.
Vice-chairman John Swanson said: “I think the whole issue of signage needs to be reconsidered.
“I know there is Government planning legislation and the county should adhere to it.
“But there clearly has to be some understanding between the county and those who seek signage to promote businesses and which is different from people who are doing charitable work like us.
“The last couple of weeks has highlighted the point that there needs to be a proper look at how signage is administered and dealt with by the county council.”
Coun Steven Bridgett added: “The county council does not have a clear policy on roundabout signs, it was brought in as a way to generate money.
“But I am pleased that the chief executive has said that the county council will not take any further action until the policy is reviewed as it is choking community groups and business at a time when we are in an economic mess.”
A council spokeswoman said that it has to respond to complaints about inappropriate signage and when it is brought to their attention a letter is sent out about enforcement procedures.