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Rise of smartphones means uncertain future for Norwich’s signposts

PUBLISHED: 11:10 22 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:10 22 March 2014

Some of the signs which were found in a council depot.

Some of the signs which were found in a council depot.

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It‘s a real sign of the times, as the rise of the smartphone could ring the changes when it comes to how people find their way around Norwich.

The future of the signs around the city, which direct visitors to attractions such as Norwich Castle, The Forum, Dragon Hall and Norwich Cathedral, is uncertain.

Of 34 finger-post Discover Norwich signs, which were installed in 2007 as part of a £300,000 “wayfinding project”, seven are now just poles, having lost every one of their direction signs. Four more had lost at least one sign.

Councillors said frost damage, problems with fixing brackets and signs being hit by vehicles had meant they had to be taken down.

Green members of Norwich City Council recently revealed how dozens of old street signs – including some from 2007 and others which were older, cast-iron items – had been found dumped at a council depot.

The issue of the signs was raised at a council meeting this week, with Green councillor Lucy Galvin and Rupert Read, the eastern region Green Party’s lead candidate at the European elections both asking what would happen to them. While council leaders insisted those signs would, if possible, be re-used, recycled or sold off, they also shed some light on the ones which do remain in the city centre.

Mike Stonard, cabinet member for environment, development and transport, said: “Within the city centre, we have an extensive network of bespoke pedestrian way finding signs that are proving to be a challenge to
maintain and keep up to date.”

He said an audit on the 34 finger-post signs and the six totem signs showed the latter were in a “reasonable” condition. But there were missing or no “fingers” on a third of the other type of signs.

Mr Stonard said: “Aside from the structural problems, there is also the issue of updating signs and maps when names change, for example the Art College on St Georges that features prominently on the signs is now the Norwich University of the Arts.

“Officers are now looking at an options appraisal of what to do next and weighing up the pros and cons of trying to make the existing system fit for purpose.”

But, perhaps ominously for the future of those signs, he added: “It is also worthy of note that, as more and more people have smart phones with map apps, the need for signed wayfinding systems is diminishing.

“We will be developing a report on the options available to resolve the situation for consideration later in the year.”

Do you think the rise of smartphones means Norwich no longer needs so many direction signs? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk.

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