Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting Rid of Street Clutter

I didn't think it possible for Eric Pickles to rise even higher in my esteem, but he's managed it. One of my pet bugbears is street clutter, by which I mean superflouous road signs. I've written about this before. I once counted more than 200 different road signs on a two miles stretch of road going into London Ridiculous. At least half of them were a statement of the bleedin' obvious.

Anyway, Comrade Pickles seems to agree and has ordered councils to remove as much clutter as possible. He is also encouraging the public to report examples of street clutter. Another examples of this government using the 'wisdom of the crowds'.

Mr Pickles has accused what he calls over-zealous councils of wasting taxpayers'
money on signs that blight the local environment. He and Transport
Secretary Philip Hammond have written to council leaders calling on them to
remove the clutter.

The government is urging the public to get involved by carrying out street audits and lobbying their councils. The Department for Transport is reviewing the policy on traffic signs and will issue new advice on how to cut down on the clutter later this year.

In one example of the issue, the department said there were 63 bollards in a car park for 53 cars in Salisbury.

Mr Pickles said: "Our streets are losing their English character. We are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed off roads, wasting taxpayers' money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council tax down. We need to 'cut the clutter'. Too many overly-cautious town hall officials are citing safety regulations as the reason for cluttering up our streets with an obstacle course when the truth is very little is dictated by law. Common sense tells us uncluttered streets have a fresher, freer authentic feel, which are safer and
easier to maintain."

All power to his not inconsiderable elbow.


Anonymous said...

Over 200 in two miles? Are you serious? I knew there were too many in certain areas of Britain, but that's ridiculous!

It's good to know Eric Pickles is attempting to deal with the problem.

Anonymous said...

St Eric of Pickles, we salute you.

Unfortunately he has not, and should not, order Councils to remove signs, he has suggested they look again. That said what a FANTASTIC initiative, clear away the crap.

I believe in the power of nudge and that people are generally good; hence, replace almost all pedestrian crossings with traffic ights with ones with Belisha Beacons. Change speed sensitive signs that order 'Slow Down' with ones that invite good behaviour, 'Dangerous bend ahead' for example.

Remove 'Welcome to' from all signs. Who is doing the welcoming? How is the welcome extended being followed up? When I welcome someone to my home I offer them a drink or a cup of tea.

South of Petworth in West Sussex is a hamlet called Heath End. No-one knew it was called Heath End until a sign went up saying 'Welcome to Heath End'. Heath End has a large builders merchants, a car sales lot that used to be a garage, a nursing home and a few houses. That's it. So whom exactly is doing the welcoming? On balance my guess is that the residents would prefer no motorists at all on what is quite a busy through route.

Fatuous, completely fatuous.

Rush-is-Right said...

I completely agree.

But the trouble is, the Councils are frightened about being sued. The old H&S bollocks you see. They take railing away, sooner or later some drunk falls through the gap and gets run over. In fact a lot of this nonsense is probably enforced on councils under the terms of their public liability insurance.

So to make any progress under this heading, the esteemed Pickles has got to have a go at Tort Reform and Public Liability law too.

IanVisits said...

While I totally agree with the sentiment and that there is too much clutter in the street signage - although the news media seems to have decided that curbing street signage means taking away street seating in town centres. Ho hum.

However, in a time where we should be cutting pointless spending, is it really sensible for councils to spend money digging up existing signs and filling in holes with tarmac?

Why not a simple policy to cut down on the growth of pointless signage, and let the old ones die out as roads/pavements are subjected to their normal periodic refurbishment?

It'll take longer, but will be a lot cheaper.

P. Stable said...

How will removing signs save money? By all means don't replace them when they come to the end of their natural life / get stolen / are driven into by wannabe Clarksons celebrating their freedom from the tyranny of speed cameras. That'll save money. And stop putting up so many, that'll save money too.

But taking down (and disposing of) signs that are already in place will actually COST the taxpayer money.

JMB said...

Someone on another site pointed out how much removal will cost, they quoted a minimum of £50 for a simple sign and going up to hundreds or even thousands if electrical connections to be removed and pavement surface made good. It must have cost considerably more to erect them.

I counted the number of No Cycling signs in Fort William High Street area one day, I found 23 and I estimated it must have cost several thousand pounds for them to be erected. But no one seems to have any responsibility to enforce the ban and I don't think a single cyclist has ever been stopped, never mind fined!

Perhaps he can also get the Highways Agency and Scottish and Welsh equivalents to cut down on pointless messages on the motorway and trunk road VMSs (Variable Message Signs). I don't think there is any evidence that the road safety and other messages achieve anything, it also seems that if there is a bit of rain we have to be told on the sign that it is raining, similarly even the lightest mist has to warned about on the sign. If I have just scraped frost off my windscreen I don't need telling that it is cold. The signs should only carry important messages not clutter like these.

Sean said...

As a keen photographer, I am acutely aware of how many photographic shots are spoiled by excess signage and other paraphernalia. You can always edit it out given enough time but

a. I resent wasting the time and

b. It doesn't remove the superfluous signs for people who live in the area.

I do hope Eric keeps up the good work.

The Grim Reaper said...

The signs can be torn up and sold off to other companies to be melted down and recycled into something more useful.

That should bring in a bit of cash for our councils...

MANTEX said...

You can add one further item to this list - councils who RENT OUT advertising space on roundabouts. I regard this as actually DANGEROUS.

You approach a roundabout in a strange town, wondering which exit to take - and you're confronted by an advert for a local hotel or a building company.

It's distracting; it doesn't give you information you need; and I regard it as both visual pollution and civic vandalism.

Jimmy said...

Perhaps something along the lines of the Cones Hotline is called for?

Gosh these new tories are exciting. Oh Yes.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, obviously councils would spend their scant budgets putting up unnecessary signage. Those pesky Councillors just love spending money on stupid things rather than things that would win them votes.

Penfold said...

Well, well.

A further recognition of the state endorsed tyranny that we have been subjected to since '97, and possible even earlier.

Whilst the tories are returning power to local communities we also need an application of common sense and a termination of the legal stasi, that prey on everyday accidents. In this latter case, that is the reason for the plethora of signs, to avoid an increasingly litigious population having grounds to sue. Indeed we also need to strip authorities of legislation that ennables them to use heavy-handed and draconian action against the people they are supposed to serve.

So perhaps the next step is to ensure THAT ALL CIVIL SERVANTS, LOCAL AND CENTRAL, are aware that they are the servants of the people NOT their masters. Any action that they take must be seen as an appropiate measure, and vitally and necessarily so.

I'm tired of being bossed around by council employees and those employees of central government who feel that they have a right to be impertinent and harass.

Keep Trucking Eric.

Anonymous said...

The point is entirely correct. Cycle lanes seem to raise the most number of pointless signs,

but we also have myriads of speed camera signs which very often do not lead to a Gatso.

But I would be careful, if you have been counting the signs you are laying yourself open to charges of driving without due attention. Don't tune in the radio either!

But do we have the money to spend removing things?

See here for an example and a campaign

Signage does have its advantages ...

Treacle said...

A couple of years ago "Twenty's plenty" signs were plastered all over villages across the Scottish Borders. They were put next to the "30" signs, with the result that drivers were, and still are, confused as to whether the speed limit is 20 or 30. The reason the signs were put up, I am told, is not that there was any actual need for them, but so that the Council could use up its budget: if it didn't spend all of its budget, the allocation would have been reduced the following year.

The Grim Reaper said...

I'm still waiting for someone to mention the clutter on this blog...

voiceofourown said...

Ah, to have a life so free of trauma that this is the kind of thing that keeps one awake at night!

McSweeney said...

Didn't take long for the govt to get to their first 'cones hotline' moment this time, did it?

Street clutter? Christ.

Raedwald said...

Um, all those signs are there because councils religiously follow the best practice advice they're given by, er, the government. In particular by Philip Hammond's Transport Department and its 'Manual for Streets'.

If Eric had asked Daniel Moylan, I'm sure Daniel would have advised him that scrapping the official government guidance would have a bigger effect on reducing clutter than anything else.

So C'mon Eric and Philip - are you going to scrap the 'Manual for Streets' tomorrow and show you mean what you say, or is this just more disingenuous politicos' spin?

talwin said...

The signs that really get your goat are those bearing genuinely irrelevant guff like 'Such-and-such Council (the boroughs are as bad!)working in partnership with the community'.

As if we might otherwise think they are working for Martians or people from Burkina Faso.

And how about the plethora of advertising signs now infesting roundabouts?

Good for Pickles. Time someone got a grip.

javelin said...

It's actually unpicking the big brother New Labour philsophy.

Signs are there as a substiution for personal responsibility. Street signs are the nanny state polluting our lives.

Paddy Briggs said...

Cone hotline time again - oh dear!

Raedwald said...

Further to previous comment, every single sign in Iain's illustrative photograph is prescribed by the Department for Transport's Sign Manuals - see

Their size, shape and exact position is determined by central government. Most aren't required by law - but if there's an accident, and the Council hasn't followed the DfT guidance, the claimant has a good chance of a successful negligence claim. So they all do exactly as the DfT recommends - with the result as in Iain's pic.

The answer to this problem isn't with local councils, but Hammond's Transport Department.

Barking Spider said...

"Comrade" Pickles?

Surely not, Iain, the Tory party hasn't moved that far left yet, or has it?

Tapestry said...

A bit of intelligent Yorkshire is most refreshing.

Hague's from up thur somewhere, but doesn't call a spade a spade in quite the same way as Pickles. Too highly educated for politics. Saving muni is what it's all erbowt.

Unknown said...

Sorry if this sounds a bit geeky, but I think that removing all this crap is more important than just tidying up our streets. It's about letting people take responsability for their lives rather than being told what to do by the state.

Just look at Oxford Circus, where we were hearded like animlas into state determined boxes to cross where we were told to cross. Now all that has been removed and we cross however and wherever we want to. And it works. Injuries have been reduced. The whole place looks better. And people are free to do what they think best.

I think it's a really good practical example of what DC means when he talks about people taking more responsability for their lives, at the expence of the state.

Thorpe said...

I think IanVisits has got a good point. Removing signs costs money.

A neighbour of mine works for a construction / road engineering company who have a standing contract with Cambridgeshire CC for road repair. Apparently, the average pothole costs about £120 to fill (2 men, one pickup, fuel, one hour of work, materials, margin), and after the last winter, there's lots of potholes. I'd guess that removing signage would cost about the same.

Why not introduce a rule stating that for every sign put in place, one must be removed? All within a fixed budget, of course. This could take place at local level and not need central government diktat, plus it would introduce a mindset that thinks "do we really need this sign"? After all, the cost of removing a sign for every one fitted would double the overall charge and put serious pressure on every local budget.

Stuart Winton said...

Well I'd rather have signs cluttering up the streets than smokers - at least the former don't make noise and don't leave a mess, unlike the latter.

Any word of the Coalition reforming the smoking ban?

Although it's a bit academic north of the border, because the chances of relaxing the ban up here seem as realistic as Alex Salmond joining the Labour Party.

steve said...

The country is in financial meltdown. And a minister finds time to point at street furniture. This is good? Really?

Can I look forward to George Osborne urging us to iron our bank notes and polish our pocket change?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that some people are mentioning that it will cost a lot of money to remove all the excess signs.

While that may be true, preventing any possible future increase will be a money saver and taking some down will also reduce maintenance costs (a lot of signs are damaged vandalised).

I've done a blog post about the issue of road signs/clutter, which can be found here:

Feel free to comment.

JMB said...

Another form of waste in signage is the Highways Agency having signs on every motorway slip road with either just Highways Agency or End of Highways Agency as you leave the motorway. There is no useful information like a telephone contact number. That is eight signs at a typical motorway junction.

The cost must be astronomical over the motorway network by the time you add up the surveys, meetings, coning off whilst the signs are erected.

JMB said...

Certain elements of our community seem to like pinching signs and manhole covers, perhaps it can be arranged for them to remove the signs free of charge by spraying a cross on the redundant ones.

P. Stable said...

"A further recognition of the state endorsed tyranny that we have been subjected to since '97"

Tyranny? We're talking about road signs here. It's hardly the holocaust...

I shall now sit back and wait for someone to say "Well, actually, the first thing Hitler did was install a big sign saying 'WELCOME TO BERLIN, HOME OF THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST PARTY' by the side of the autobahn."

Paddy Briggs said...


"The country is in financial meltdown."

I often wonder , when people use such overblown and inaccurate language as this, what language they would use if what they allege really did happen?

So if we really were in "financial meltdown" what could Steve say. He's already used the extreme expression.

Sean said...

One thought for those complaining about the costs of removing signs.

In the 1970s I was at university with a student who was affectionately known as "Mad Ian". Prior to coming to university he had been a farmer and, although of medium height, was wiry and immensely strong.

On occasion, when he had had a bit too much to drink, he would take a dislike to a street sign, shake it a bit until it was loose and then uproot it and take it home.

Of course, that is what we might have called antisocial behaviour. But today it would make him a model citizen.

Mad Ian, where are you now that Britain needs you?

P. Stable said...

"So if we really were in "financial meltdown" what could Steve say. He's already used the extreme expression."

The obvious next stage would be for the already melted-down economy to change state into a gas. So he could say "The country is in financial vapourisation".