Essex County Council plan to outlaw A-boards
A BLIND man waves his stick from side to side as he struggles to negotiate the maze of advertising boards next to Chelmsford market.
Phil Lee, a member of the Essex Visibility Impairment Planning Group, helped advise Essex County Council's highways authority which is planning to ban the A-boards from shopping centres across the county.
Married dad-of-three Phil, 55, said: "I have not been here before and people who cannot see build up a route map in their minds.
"The problem is that A-boards are never put in the exact place twice and a woman friend I know fell right over the top of one."
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The county council's scrutiny committee, encouraged by former highways chief Rodney Bass, last week pledged to outlaw A-boards after a host of complaints from individuals, businesses, and disability groups across the county.
But the authority wants to leave it to each local council like Chelmsford City to decide how to deal with their specific problems because of the "diversity" between seaside, rural and urban Essex, so not all A-boards will disappear.
Cllr Mike Mackrory from Springfield said: "I was shocked to see a blind person with a white stick in a state of confusion and fear in Cornhill near the market where there are dozens of the boards randomly placed like an obstacle course."
High Chelmer shopping centre boss Mick McDonagh, who says he is a "bitter enemy" of A-boards, is delighted.
"I allow no A-boards inside my centre but I cannot do anything about the public realm at the moment.
"A-boards are a real problem for many shoppers and people with disabilities, and cause an unattractive clutter.
"I have seen zero tolerance in Ireland and, believe me, it works to everyone's advantage."
He added: "I think Phil has shown why street clutter should be minimised. It is a symptom of bad management of the public realm."
Local authorities will only be able to take action against A-boards place on pavements that they own or maintain.
Parts of Chelmsford High Street, like outside Debenhams, are privately owned by the retailer and will be exempt.
But all of Cornhill is public land and boards could be banned.
The final decision lies with Essex County Council's new head of highways, Cllr Derrick Louis, who promised a decision by July.