MORE than 200 unauthorised roadside adverts were investigated by Northumberland County Council in 2010-11.
Of the 202 recorded cases, 65% involved adverts for local businesses, while 25% related to estate agents and only 4% concerned local events and festivals.
All but 11 of the cases were resolved – but now council officials are finalising a revised policy to nail down the terms and conditions surrounding roadside advertising in the county.
Following The Journal’s revelation last summer that the award-winning Country Barn farm shop at Widdrington had been ordered to take down four signs on a nearby approach road, there was a backlash against regulations that were seen as restricting local industry.
The Journal also highlighted the cases of Glanton Show and Rothbury Football Club, plus a North Broomhill guest house, which had fallen victim to the same regulations.
Following a 530-name public protest petition, Country Barn owners Hugh and Sarah Annett were eventually allowed to replace two of the four signs.
The furore prompted Northumberland County Council chief executive Steve Stewart to order an internal review of policy.
And now the council’s north area manager Peter Rutherford has completed a report to go before the council’s planning and environment committee in Morpeth on Tuesday.
It says a cohesive and positive policy framework will guide businesses on what they can and cannot do.
This will streamline the number of unauthorised road signs being mounted in what has become an increasingly fraught issue.
Mr Rutherford says: “In July 2011 the council received a number of complaints from tourist-related businesses regarding enforcement action being taken against unauthorised signs, primarily along the main road network.
“There was significant Press interest in the four cases concerned, and representations were made by a number of council members to the chief executive.
“Recent adverse publicity has demonstrated that there is a perception that the council acts disproportionately to the harm caused by the unauthorised display of advertisements.
“By adopting a more positive approach, in preparing and delivering clear guidance to local businesses and the community, the number of un- authorised advertisements will reduce, allowing enforcement officers to be more strategic and proactive in a broad spectrum of monitoring and enforcement.”
Now the council is proposing nine statements of intent to cover roadside advertising.
They will provide guidance on:
Visitor attractions (signs adjacent to trunk roads; adjacent to other A roads; and roads remote from trunk and A roads).
Community events (support for temporary signs and fixed locations).
Outdoor ads in main towns (signs on business premises and in public realm; signs in commercial and industrial areas).
Sponsored adverts on roundabouts (express consent).
Enforcement (unauthorised ads within the highway; and on public land).
“At a time when many small businesses are operating against a background of national austerity, there is a will to support enterprise and to retain as much economic activity as possible,” added Mr Rutherford.
“This is particularly acute in the rural parts of the county, where the visitor season underpins the year-round prosperity of businesses, but not exclusively so.
“The economic base of the county’s main towns also needs to be encouraged and supported.
“However, an unfettered control of outdoor advertisements has the potential to adversely impact.
“The challenge has been to weave these two principles together into a cohesive and positive policy framework.”