TOWN centre traders in Douglas are up in arms after the council issued an edict that they must pay a licence fee for display boards on the street.
Branding the move as a ‘thinly disguised fundraising exercise’, Simon and Lynda Brown of the Creative Shop said the council was obstructing them in already difficult trading conditions.
Mrs Brown said: ‘The initial letter to retailers stated A boards not only make the street look cluttered but also present a potential danger to blind and disabled people.
‘But we would be interested to know how the payment of a licence fee makes these items less hazardous.
‘It would appear that this is simply a thinly disguised fund raising exercise for Douglas Town Council.’
Though their A-board was useful for their shop because it has a narrow frontage, Mrs Brown said they had elected to do without. However many businesses appeared to have applied for a licence and paid the fee.
‘So the signs outside many of the shops will reappear soon,’ she said.
‘Having no sign probably won’t affect us greatly because there is a large footfall past the shop but some who are located further from the centre could be disadvantaged.’
She said there had been an initial contact from the council before Christmas inviting people to apply for the licence. The new regulations also dictate the number of boards per business, the size and the distance it can be positioned from the shop, she said.
So far, Mrs Brown said the council had acknowledged receipt of the letter, which is signed by six independent town centre retailers, but as yet no reply had been forthcoming.
‘In the current economic climate when trade was also hit by the bad winter weather it’s extra worry that we really don’t want,’ she said.
‘We are looking to the Douglas Development Partnership to encourage businesses to fill the empty shops and to support us.
‘Even if the money charged were going to support town centre trade that would not be so bad but I assume it is just going into the coffers.’
But Councillor David Ashford, chairman of the council’s public works committee, said there was nothing new in the policy, just that its enforcement had been taken over by the council from the government’s Department of Infrastructure.
He denied it was an attempt to extort money out of traders saying the annual fees of £100 for an A-board sign or £240 for a pavement cafe, were intended to cover administration costs.
The licence fee was not new, he said, simply some traders who should have paid had got away with it previously because enforcement was ‘slack’.
Councillor Ashford said licensing allowed the council to control the positioning of signs and prevent obstruction of the highway.
‘There seems to be an assumption that all those that apply will be granted a licence. If a board is likely to cause clutter or obstruction then a licence will not be granted,’ he said.
‘There may also be conditions attached such as a board must be positioned in a certain way so as not to cause an obstruction.’
On the subject of fees charged he added: ‘When the licences are up for review the council will review what the actual cost of administration is and either increase or decrease the fee accordingly. It is not the council’s policy or plan to make money out of the regime.’
He added: ‘The council is fully in support of traders and is looking forward to working with businesses to work through the regeneration of the town centre.
‘These regulations are not new what is different is the council has reminded traders of their obligations to hold the necessary licences.
‘In fact many traders who have complied with the requirement for pavement cafes for many years have been complaining that they have been paying while others have not. I certainly don’t believe this is an anti-business policy.’