The Dos and Don’ts of Signs

Oundle town can pride itself on being capable of retaining the charm of a small, English market town. However, there is a delicate balance that must be maintained for the town to be able to stay lively and modern, yet maintain its respect for heritage.

Signage around the town is constantly evolving with the arrival of new businesses, and because of this, council authorities ensure that commerce complies with rules set out by the Town and Country Planning Regulations.

These regulations are reasonable and ensure that towns remain looking neat and organised. Advertising on highways, such as roads, footpaths and verges is generally managed by Northamptonshire County Council, while any other business advertising on buildings, walls or in fields is the responsibility of East Northamptonshire Council, which will also take the view of the local town council.

Signs on shop-fronts or businesses where the top edge of the sign is more than 4.6 metres from the ground must submit applications to the planning authority prior to installation, and should they fail to do so, they leave themselves liable to action. For example, a town centre pub erected a large sign on their building without planning permission. The council judged the sign too big for the frontage, which resulted in its replacement by a new, smaller sign, currently hanging over the establishment.

Other signs that have prompted action or been refused by the council include a business on Station Road and the Courthouse Museum.

There are exemptions to the planning procedure for some organisations, such as those with religious, educational, cultural, recreational, medical purposes. Anglican churches, however, are accountable to their diocese and must apply for a “faculty” to erect signage in churchyards. Although permission from a council is not required, the regulations must be observed; one sign is allowed per entarnce, and must not exceed 1.2 square metres in area.

At St Peter’s Church in Oundle, new churchyard signs have been erected “to show that people are welcome and encouraged to come,” said Reverend Stephen Webster. Similar signs were also erected at the Roman Catholic church.

Any signage proposed for a listed building requires listed building consent. It’s the duty of a conservation officer to make a visual assessment of the impact of the proposed sign on a listed building. These considerations apply to many of the buildings in Oundle.

When Oundle School replaced its old wooden signage with new blue signs on each school building, the conservation officer asked the school to relocate a sign in the Market Place that he judged harmed the character of the building.

Planners take pride and interest in maintaining the visual integrity of the town, and this extends even to posters on lamp posts and a-boards on pavements, which are considered “public highways”. The Highway Authority recommends that owners of a-boards have public liability insurance to cover any injury caused by the sign obstructing the “highway”.

What might be vital advertising of services to some, could be obstructive or unsightly to others. Anyone with something to say is just advised to follow the guidance and get permission in order to avoid unnecessary expense or even fines.

By Octavia Morgan