Right to display - or right of way?

RICHARD BATSON Buckets and spades, balls and squeegies line the streets of a seaside town as shopkeepers display their wares outside their windows. But they could soon be swept away under a council clampdown aimed at clearing obstructions from the highway.

RICHARD BATSON

Buckets and spades, balls and squeegies line the streets of a seaside town as shopkeepers display their wares outside their windows.

But they could soon be swept away under a council clampdown aimed at clearing obstructions from the highway.

A new get-tough policy at Cromer highlights the delicate balancing act of letting shops trade in traditional ways, while keeping paths and roads clear for pedestrians, particularly the elderly, disabled and visually-impaired.

Traders will meet officials at a public meeting later this month in a bid a thrash out a solution to the prickly problem, which has dogged other towns and cities from time to time and last reared its head in the resort nine years ago.

Highways chiefs, frustrated that traders failed to respond to summertime requests to clear goods and advertisement boards off the streets, now say shops could face an autumn offensive of confiscation and fines.

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Norfolk County Council's north Norfolk area highways manager Nick Tupper said: “We don't want to be heavy handed or take people to court.

“We have tried to explain the situation through the local chamber of trade - but have noticed no improvement so we must go to the next stage.”

That involved a meeting at the parish hall on September 25 at 2pm - though the time could be moved if it proved impossible for a majority of the 125 traders who have received letters from the council.

Mr Tupper said: “We don't want to take away trade from the town, and we have tried to be as accommodating as possible.

But under the Highways Act people are not allowed to trade, advertise or cause an obstruction on the highway which includes the pavement.”

The council tried to negotiate with traders, and explain the law, but it had to take action when a complaint was received.

Around a dozen traders were currently causing problems by standing goods or advertisement boards on the footpaths.

It last happened in Cromer in 1998, when George the Fat Plastic Butcher which stands outside Icarus Hines' shop, became a focal point of the saga.

Shop owner Mr Hines said: “I have been trading for 25 years with George and a display chiller cabinet outside on a wide pavement. But whether the path is wide or narrow the council says it is obstruction. We need some common sense.”

Chamber of trade president Sue Brown said: “The chamber cannot condone anyone breaking law. Everybody expects to see baskets and buckets outside shops, and traders want to capitalise on business, but there is not a separate law for seaside towns.

“Highways have the law on their side, but we would love to see a compromise.”

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