A-boards banned in Chichester city centre

The A boards in North Street, Chichester   Picture by Louise Adams C131197-1
The A boards in North Street, Chichester Picture by Louise Adams C131197-1

ACTION will be taken against traders who use A-boards to bring in business in a big crackdown by officials.

The drastic new step comes after eight years of the council trying to tackle the proliferation of A-boards in Chichester city centre.

“I think that’s a very good thing to get rid of them in the main streets,” said Tricia Tull at a meeting of the planning committee.

“The current system isn’t working,” agreed Quentin Cox.

He said he saw 14 A-boards obstructing the entrance to Crane Street on the morning of the meeting alone.

“The number is frankly out of control.”

Shona Archer, manager of the enforcement team, told the committee: “Rather than allowing A-boards to grow in their number we felt it was a sensible option to use powers available to us.”

She said discussions had been ongoing with the City Centre Partnership to resolve the A-board problem, but no other option was found.

“We felt it would be appropriate to use our enforcement powers.”

She said it would be principally shops on the main streets who were affected, namely North Street, South Street, West Street and East Street, but she admitted it would have implications for side-street traders as well.

Andrew Frost, assistant director of development management, said, several years after the partnership was tasked with solving the A-board problem, they were ‘no further forward’.

He said the council had received a complaint and it was time to take action.

However, Cllr Fred Robertson was concerned about the district council focusing solely on the city.

“It’s sad really,” he said, adding the city-orientated organisations should take more responsibility.

“We have the city centre manager, paid by this district council, and Chichester City Council with a £1m precept.

“If there’s a problem with A-boards why don’t they address it?

“Let the city council and the city manager do their job.

“That should be something they’re worried about.

“Chichester City Council, with such a vast precept, should be taking care of its own A-boards.”

In response, Mr Frost said it was the district council’s responsibility as the planning authority.

In June, there were around 200 A-boards displayed in the city centre, as opposed to 86 in 2006. The council said concerns about safety were raised because of ‘large clusters’ of signs.

Members approved the proposal, which will see officers use enforcement powers to remove signs.

It will also instigate prosecutions against traders who do not voluntarily remove them after receiving a flyer from the council.

Traders’ reaction

SHOP owners have expressed their dismay at this latest move which could make it harder for them to attract passing trade.

A survey carried out by the City Centre Partnership found A-boards bring in an estimated 30 per cent of trade to Chichester businesses

Stephen Lee, proprietor of Spires Bakery, said the general public took notice of what was advertised on A-boards.

“As we’re on a B-street, A-boards are a good tool,” he said.

“I did a test where I put the specials on an A-board at the end of the road and counted the number of people who came in. The majority asked for that specific item.

“I love my A-boards.”

Margaret Jennings, of Pretty Scruffy, which is based in Cooper Street, said A-boards were ‘very important’ for side streets.

“Even with them it’s difficult to get people down here,” she said.

Zara Gray, of Zest for Taste, said it would affect the business if it was forced to remove its A-board.

“We use them to display offers and new products.

“Particularly as there are such strict controls on hanging-signs, I would say they are essential,” she said.

However, not all traders felt the move was necessarily bad. Mandy Rose, owner of the Little Shop of Secrets, was forced to remove her A-board in January this year.

Although she did not think all A-boards should be removed, she said in some places the number of A-boards prevented people getting past.

“At Crane Street it’s ridiculous. That just makes the whole place look a complete and utter mess.”

Despite the increase of A-boards in the city centre, action was not taken prior to now by the district council.

Enforcement officers felt it was not ‘appropriate’ to take action against businesses during the ‘economic downturn’ because many of them appeared to derive up to so much of their business from having A-boards on display.

Resources

IT IS not yet known how much of a financial burden the enforcement there will be on district council funds.

Cllr Simon Oakley asked how much officer time would be absorbed by the decision, and whether it would have a knock-on impact on other enforcement action throughout the district.

Shona Archer, manager of the enforcement team, said initially a flyer would be sent out to businesses asking them to remove A-boards.

“Formal action will only be taken when absolutely necessary,” she said.

“Prosecution or removal is a last resort. One hopes we don’t have to do that.”

She said current enforcement officers would be dealing with the new actions, alongside their existing jobs and would take it on as a ‘special project’.

The committee heard any business that was prosecuted, but then re-offended would have to be prosecuted a second time.

The first enforcement action would only apply to a single offence.

Cllr Quentin Cox pointed out the prevalence of the A-boards negated some of their impact on the public.

However, he felt if they were all removed, it could encourage some traders to take a chance to give their business a boost.

“It will be in the interest of somebody to flout the rules for a week,” he said.