In November 2012 the council approved expenditure of £6950 to purchase an electronic notice board to replace the old council information board in the market place. Just over £2000 was additionally required for its installation.
The new information platform is a multi line LED message board displaying a rotating schedule of community news. The board was custom made to match the styling of the previous “heritage” notice board. To link the new supermarket with the centre of town, Waitrose provided an identical board in their car park, with messages synced across the two displays.
Any member of the public can submit a news item to be displayed on the boards simply by emailing the council office.
The new notice board has many advantages over the old style notice board. There are no scrappy sheets of paper wet from rain, or faded by the sun; news can be viewed from a distance, and there’s greater capacity for a variety of items.
It is not a universally admired innovation, however. It’s difficult to set a rotation speed that pleases everyone; if it is set too fast, one can’t digest the details, if it’s too slow, readers get bored. For some, the LED matrix is border-line illegible, and the look and feel has an unflattering resemblance to roadside signs along American strip malls.
Certainly an electronic notice board is not something that was high up on anyone’s wish list. When the 2020 committee asked residents in its survey, “What do you think is needed to make the town centre a more pleasant environment?” six percent said improved street furniture, and only two percent said better signage.
For traditionalists the brightly lit message board is an anachronistic addition to the historic market place, particularly in the evening. Guidance on signage by the Department for Communities and Local Government sets out that illuminated signs are not permitted in a Conservation Area. Not too long ago the OTC said, in its decision on a retrospective planning application for an illuminated sign, that it does not support illuminated signs within the Conservation Area. Yet, the Market Place is the heart of Oundle’s Conservation Area, and this new notice board is clearly of the illuminated variety.
The council is a forward-looking body, exploring new ways to improve and streamline communications. It remains to be seen whether the new message board will be an effective tool or a mere distraction, and whether the town’s investment in it will match the longevity of its earlier, unplugged version.