Mid Norfolk businesses threatened with fines by Breckland Council for illegal adverts on the A47

Businesses which have been threatened with large fines by Breckland Council for displaying illegal adverts have said it is a 'nail in the coffin' for local firms.

The authority sent out letters last month to seven businesses around Dereham, which had signs on the side of the A47.

Two of the seven independent firms, East Anglian Stabling, in Westfield, and The Lodge Restaurant and Bar, in North Tuddenham, have taken their signs down.

Vikki King, owner of the Lodge Restaurant and Bar, received the letter on December 22, about her two signs which have been up for three years on land owned by a friend.

She said: 'Being a business in a village which is bypassed is difficult to let people know we are here.

'I think everything at the moment is so frustrating. It is a bad time for pubs and restaurants and particularly a bad time for village pubs. It is like another nail in the coffin. We are trying to survive in a difficult economic climate.

'It is very frustrating. There is a lack of support from the council particularly for the rural communities.'

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Ms King removed her signs at the weekend because she did not want the risk of being fined.

The planning enforcement letter said the offending signs needed advertising consent because they were not displayed within the boundary of the businesses.

It read: 'Accordingly the sign will need to be removed within 14 days from the date of this letter to prevent the possibility of further formal action being taken under the legislation contained within the Town and Country Planning Regulations Act 2007.

'I should advise you that to display an advertisement without the necessary consent is an immediate offence, and the landowner, advertising company and beneficiary of the advertisement may all be subject of prosecution under Section 224(3) and liable upon summary conviction to a fine of up to and not exceeding �1,000 of each day during which the offence continues after conviction.'

The letter added that it was 'unlikely' an application for advertising consent would be supported by planning officers because the A47 signs would be a 'major distraction which compromises driving standards and road safety'.

Louise Wilson, whose fianc� Alan Fisher runs East Anglian Stabling, said they received the letter on December 16.

They have since removed their sign, which has been up for two years on land owned by a friend.

Ms Wilson, who is a midwife at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said she felt 'gobsmacked' and 'stunned at the lack of support' from the council.

'Like most small businesses, we are finding it hard to keep going,' she added.

Dorian Sibley, who owns Dereham Tile and Carpet Centre, in Royson Way, Dereham, also received the letter on December 20.

He remains unsure whether he will remove his sign off the A47, and said: 'If everyone else is going to take their signs down I should take mine down.'

But he added: 'At a time when times are hard and not everybody has got oodles and oodles of money to get advertising, these signs are a good way of advertising and work.'

Mr Sibley said if he were to remove his A47 sign it would 'dramatically' affect business.

A council spokesman said the seven businesses which were written to last month were 'illegally displaying advertising signs'.

They added: 'The Highways Agency recently carried out an audit, including sections of the A47, and contacted Breckland Council to ask that action be taken to remove unauthorised signs that could cause a distraction to drivers and thus pose a risk to highway safety.

'Some signs can be erected on business premises without consent, subject to restrictions as to size, colour etc.'

The spokesman said that directional signs away from a business, as well as moveable signs, needed consent from the council and landowner.

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