Annual licence fees for A-boards could be on the cards for central Chichester, as moves are started which may see the city council take over responsibility for a range of street licensing duties.
The growing number of boards has been highly contentious for many years, with strong criticism both from conservationists objecting to their presence in a historic area and groups representing disabled and partially-sighted people, for whom they are a particular hazard.
Traders argue boards are even more vital when retailing all over the country is facing problems, while critics claim there are now so many of them they have little or no impact on potential customers.
Now a £50 licence fee is being suggested by the county council, although there are some who feel it should be much higher - one city and district councillor this week called for a fee of £500 a year.
The county and district councils are proposing the city council should take over some of their duties, including street trading, busking, banners, street collections, tables and chairs on the highway and pedlars in the precinct, as well as for A-boards.
A new charge is also being suggested for shops which display goods outside their premises.
The new licensing system would be aimed at simplifying the present set-up, creating a ‘one-stop shop’ for licensable activities, based at the city council offices in North Street.
At present, the county council, as highways authority, is responsible for dealing with A-boards. But although these are illegal, it has shied away from taking direct action to remove them in Chichester city centre.
Some believe licence fees would be a deterrent to their use.
The city council’s community affairs committee agreed on Monday to recommend it to give approval in principle to the proposals put forward by the county and district.
But this would be subject to consideration of a further detailed report examining legal, staffing, financial and other issues in depth before a final decision is taken.
Cllr Richard Plowman said the system was well worth introducing, for the sake of the people of the city. A lot of them got confused about which authority to go to for licensing matters.
Committee chairman Cllr David Siggs said legal issues relating to A-boards would need to be resolved at county level.
If it was not possible for the city council to take this on, it would have to go back to the county council, which would have to enforce it.
Cllr Michael Woolley, chairman of the city planning and conservation committee, said A-boards should be licensed at £500 a year each – £10 a week for every shopkeeper.
“This might be enough to make them wonder whether they want to put one out,” he said. “A charge of £50 is neither here nor there.”
Cllr Peter Budge said it was lack of enforcement that caused problems.
“There seems to be no enforcement from West Sussex or the district,”he declared.
“Are we prepared to have the teeth to make this work? You have to be tough to make it work.”