Thousands take part in campaign to save streets from clutter

An army of 220,000 Women's Institute and conservation group members was mobilised yesterday to help rid Britain's streets of clutter, misplaced signs and ugly paving schemes.

An army of 220,000 Women's Institute and conservation group members was mobilised yesterday to help rid Britain's streets of clutter, misplaced signs and ugly paving schemes.

Bill Bryson, the American-born travel writer, helped launch English Heritage's Save our Streets campaign, which aims to banish the mishmash of bollards, barriers, and obtrusive road markings that have blighted urban areas. While street planners were "well meaning" he said, little thought or co- ordination had gone into the paraphernalia planted across Britain's high streets since he had arrived in this country more than 30 years ago.

Bryson, author of Notes from a Small Island, an affectionate account of his travels in Britain, said: "I think one of the saddest things that has happened in the time that I've been here, is the loss of probably the most important piece of street furniture, and that's the red phone box. I was amazed and distraught when that happened at how complacent Britain was. It was a great tragedy that they were replaced by these shower stalls that have just become advertising blocks," said .

The Save Our Streets campaign plans to take an audit of streets with the help of Women's Institute members and other conservation groups. Reports will then be produced detailing how local authorities can provide road markings and signs in a less obtrusive fashion and more in tune with the surrounding landscape. Nine separate regional manuals will be produced to offer advice on street furniture. Workshops will be run for highway engineers and urban planners offering advice on good design.

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage said: "This is not an exercise in duffing up traffic engineers. Actually we need traffic engineers to solve the problem. These things are put up by well meaning people but there is a lack of any co-ordination."

The campaign would like to see local stone used for streets, using design - such as pinch points - to prevent parking rather than yellow lines, ugly bollards removed in favour of stone pillars, lights which blend sympathetically with the historic nature of buildings, trees planted instead of begonia borders, fussy paving banished and signs or CCTV cameras placed on existing lampposts rather than new poles.

Mr Thurley identified areas that he felt had become cluttered with badly planned streetscapes, citing Oxford as a prime example of a high street where a multitude of signs and poles obscured historic buildings. "The problem is more than 20 different agencies have the right to do things to our streets without any permission, without any control and worst of all without any co-ordination," he said.

The London borough of Kensington and Chelsea was held up as a "golden" example where the streets were clear of excessive obstacles and signs.

The campaign has the backing of the Department of Transport, which English Heritage hopes will convince local authorities to co-operate. "Our experience is that when you get local people galvanised and they care about it a great deal it causes change. Local councils have to respond," Mr Thurley said.

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