Red card for the up-front greengrocer

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The Independent Online
A greengrocer must remove fruit and vegetables from outside his shop after a High Court judge yesterday ruled that the pavement display was breaking the law.

In a case which affects shopkeepers all over the country, the judge said the display outside Brian Godfrey's premises inIlkeston, Derbyshire, did constitute a "nuisance" in law as it obstructed the pavement and local magistrates had been wrong to find otherwise.

No members of the public had complained and no accident had been caused by Mr Godfrey's boxes of apples, tomatoes and other produce.

Joe Murphy, chairman of Derbyshire's highways and transport committee, said: "I am pleased that the High Court has upheld the county council's argument that any unlawful obstruction of the highway is a nuisance.

"The council is firmly of the opinion that pavements are for people, and that they should be kept clear of all obstructions for the benefit of pedestrians - particularly disabled people, people with impaired sight and parents with pushchairs. If we had made an exception ... a precedent could have been set."

A legal expert said the judgment made clear it was for local authorities to decide how to exercise their discretion in such cases. Yesterday's ruling did not mean that the custom of shopkeepers displaying their wares on pavements would now disappear - only that it would continue to be subject to local authority control. The Labour-controlled council brought the appeal, supported by many other local authorities, to have the law clarified.

Mr Godfrey, who escaped a potentially large bill for legal costs when the council decided not to seek a costs order against him, said: "I hope other councils will act more sensibly."

Mr Godfrey was supported by a 750-signature petition and had offered the council a compromise over the size of his display, which was turned down.

Mr Godfrey, 54, whose display protruded about one metre on to the 2.5m wide pavement, said: "I really can't believe that anybody in authority would go as far as this against a small businessman like me." He said the future of his business was in doubt following a 74 per cent drop in trade since 1992.

A former miner, he bought his greengrocer's business in 1986 after being made redundant from the pits. "The fruit and veg will come in now. The law is the law and I am a law-abiding person," he said.

Mr Justice Hidden said he had ruled against the greengrocer with some "sadness" because it was clear that he was a "hardworking man" whose business had already been hit by decisions to build a bypass and pedestrianise part of Ilkeston.