Ministers urge councils to 'cut the clutter' on streets

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The Independent Online

The Government today urged councils to cut street clutter by getting rid of unnecessary signs, railings and advertising hoardings.

Ministers are worried the character of urban spaces is being damaged.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond have written to council leaders calling on them to reduce the number of signs and other "street clutter".

The Government believes that in some cases traffic signs and railings are installed by councils in the mistaken belief that they are legally required. However, although some signs are required by law, Government advice is that for signs to be most effective they should be kept to a minimum.

To help councils do this the Department for Transport is reviewing traffic signs policy and new advice on how to reduce clutter will be published later this year.

The Department for Transport said that, for example, the cathedral city of Salisbury in Wiltshire was littered with bollards, with a parking area for 53 cars having 63 bollards.

Also, the removal of street clutter from Kensington High Street in west London had reduced accidents by up to 47 per cent.

Mr Pickles said: "Our streets are losing their English character. We are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed off roads - wasting taxpayers' money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council tax down. We need to 'cut the clutter'.

"Too many overly cautious town hall officials are citing safety regulations as the reason for cluttering up our streets with an obstacle course when the truth is very little is dictated by law. Common sense tells us uncluttered streets have a fresher, freer, authentic feel, which are safer and easier to maintain."

Mr Hammond said: "We all know that some signs are necessary to make our roads safe and help traffic flow freely. But unnecessary street furniture is a waste of taxpayers' money and leaves our streets looking more like scrap yards than public spaces.

"We have written to councils to remind them that it need not be this way. We don't need all this clutter confusing motorists, obstructing pedestrians and hindering those with disabilities who are trying to navigate our streets."

Ralph Smyth, senior transport campaigner for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: "Clutter needs to be tackled in both rural and urban areas. With every local council in England drawing up new local transport plans, this welcome move could not be better timed. Clutter is not just ugly - it's expensive and distracts drivers."

In 2006 a survey by the Hampshire section of the CPRE of a seven-mile section of the B3006 in the South Downs National Park revealed an average of 45 signs per mile.

Paul Watters, head of roads policy for the AA, said: "In a poll of AA members, 76% agreed that not all road signs were useful and 50% said there were too many signs.

"However, a follow-up poll to establish which signs could be removed found 45% actually wanted more speed limit signs, 37% wanted more direction signs, 34% wanted more parking signs and 36% wanted more warning signs.

"This is the conundrum. If we want to regulate traffic, ensure drivers don't get lost and are made aware of hazards, we must appreciate that not all signs are clutter."

Richard Kemp, vice chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "Signs which some people think are clutter other people will consider sources of essential information, particularly if they're a stranger in town.

"Having safe, attractive towns and cities is just as important to councils as it is to residents. If local people aren't happy with the look of where they live they can, and should, tell their council their views.

"Some councils are already removing signs and bollards to make streets clearer, but this won't work everywhere. Councils should be left to make their own decisions about what signs and railings are needed, taking into account the opinions of people who live there."