Eric Pickles cheerful Communities Secretary Eric Pickles' fortnightly column for ConHome

Imagine if your home was covered in signs that alerted you to every possible risk.  ‘Proceed with caution – stairs’ or ‘Danger – door ahead’.  It’s obviously absurd.  But that’s exactly what we see in streets across the country.  Pointless placards with banal instructions.  Redundant railings just begging to be jumped over.  Bossy bollards which seem designed to annoy rather than assist.  These are an insult to people’s intelligence and a blight on the landscape which is ruining the character of our villages, towns and cities.  I’m sure that taxpayers would much rather their money was being spent on fixing potholes or keeping council tax down rather than on signs to point out the blatantly obvious.

Much of this jungle has grown up as a result of misplaced beliefs about legal requirements and an over-zealous approach to health and safety.  A survey by Civic Voice Salisbury found that a parking area for just 53 cars had no fewer than 63 bollards.  Of course, there are traffic signs and railings which do serve an important purpose.   But having too many is actually counterproductive.  They confuse motorists, obstruct pedestrians, and are especially trying for people with disabilities who find it difficult to navigate them.  It’s just common sense: warnings can become meaningless when they are overused, and people will simply start to ignore them as they lose their impact.

So having fewer signs can actually make the streets safer.  Accidents on Kensington High Street have gone down by 47% now they’ve got rid of the useless jumble of signs and barriers. Unfortunately, this is another example of over-zealous bureaucrats causing more problems than they solve.  And the legal argument doesn’t stack up.  In fact, government advice is to keep signs to a minimum to make sure they are effective.  Meanwhile, Londoners and tourists alike have hugely benefited from the recent revamp at Oxford Circus.  Pedestrians are no longer hemmed in like cattle by long railings, making it much easier to get around.

It’s time to take back the streets.  So with Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, I’ve written to councils calling on them help preserve the identity of their area while also improving safety by reducing the number of signs and other street clutter.  And people who are concerned about local street clutter should get in touch with a campaigning group like Civic Voice, Living Streets or, who can advise how people can put pressure on their council to get their area cleaned up.

Walking round our streets should be a pleasure.  People shouldn’t have to navigate an obstacle course just to pop down to the shops.  I hope our initiative will cut the clutter so we can cherish the character of our neighbourhoods.

10 comments for: Eric Pickles writes about his mission to rid the streets of pointless – yet costly – signs and bollards

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