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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 5th June 2009
Is a proliferation of shop signs a sign of the difficult economic times? asks David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society

In difficult economic times it is understandable that retailers will try to attract customers in whatever ways they can find. With increasing competition from websites, many of them feel the need to shout more and more loudly to make their presence on the high streets stand out from the rest.

Ripon is not immune from this tendency. The number of ‘A’ boards seems to increase, despite the fact that they are not permitted on pavements; only a lack of enforcement allows them to continue. And more shops have taken to showing their wares on the street, too – not just the old offenders, to which attention has been previously drawn in this column, but others, too. The recent warm weather has seen several outlets displaying folding chairs on the pavement, for example.

There are, of course, legitimate ways for retailers to show their presence. There are the shop fronts themselves – and this is where this series of columns began. There has been some recent improvement among some of those to whom attention has been called; W H Smith, for example, has recently been repainted, and it’s amazing just what a simple coat of paint can do to give self-respect to a business and to make the premises more attractive to potential customers.

Then, too, there are the signs that hang or protrude from the shops. There are, of course, regulations that govern these, set out clearly in information from Harrogate Borough Council. In general these are reasonably well-observed. Even the multiple stores have adhered to the ruling; look, for example, at the sequence on the east side of the Square – Smiths, Dorothy Perkins, Edinburgh Woollen Mill – and you will see that they are modest and, really, quite tasteful, though their style doesn’t quite live up to the much more interesting carved crown on the front of Sainsbury’s a little further along, that once adorned and signalled the Crown Inn.

Some of the signs around the city obviously use brackets that have been in place for many years; a good example is the ornate bracket that holds the sign of the Royal Oak in Kirkgate. The sign itself is a good example of a modern style that is in keeping with its surroundings. A little nearer the cathedral is the sign that proclaims the now-defunct St Margaret’s Bookshop – or it did until it was taken over (temporarily, thank goodness) for electioneering. It should be retuned to its original state as soon as possible – preferably today, after yesterday’s voting.

There is one type of sign that is expressly excluded from the Ripon Conservation Area (which comprises most of the city’s historic core; signs that are internally illuminated. The reasons for this ban are obvious – such illuminated signs are not traditional on the Georgian and Victorian buildings of the city, and therefore spoil their look; and they add a garish element to a streetscape that is valued for its subtlety.

Nevertheless there are repeated requests from developers and retailers to have such signs. It is not clear why this should be – is it ignorance of the policy or an attempt to see if they can ‘slip it through’ unnoticed? They may have grounds for thinking the latter; there is at least one instance in the city of an internally-illuminated sign that is clearly there in contravention of the rules.

Applications have to be made to Harrogate Borough Council for any advertisements of this sort, whether internally or externally illuminated – and of course, the fees have to be paid for the application whether or not permission is granted. Applications have to be publically displayed before a decision can be made, so those green planning notices appear near the premises. Details also appear on the Harrogate Council website, and the Civic Society keeps a close eye on them.

Yet an illuminated sign has appeared on a building at the top end of Kirkgate, on the take-away that has recently become Zorro Pizza. As far as the Society is aware, no application has been made for this sign; if a retrospective application is made it will be opposed, and the Society expects Harrogate Borough Council to take enforcement action if the application is refused, as it should be according to the Council’s own rules. And if no application is made, the enforcement should be swift and positive.

Of course retailers need to make people aware of their shops or other premises; but they cannot do so by flouting the rules.

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