About semi-annually an incoming Transport Minister, anxious to make a PR hit at minimal cost and effort, republishes a circular. The document urges local councils to cut back on the street clutter that befouls most streets, junctions and even beauty spots.
The classic example is the warning of aircraft noise, under the Heathrow fly-path. With 1200 or 1300 aircraft in-and-out each day, near roof-top height over Hounslow, with the prevailing wind wafting the pungency of jetfuel, a metal warning of the obvious is just another intrusion into decency.
One of the last occasions Malcolm went to Heathrow, he reckoned the road signage, warnings, prohibitions and indicators — road-side and on the carriageway — aggregated at one to every dozen-to-fifteen yards. So, at thirty miles an hour (and much of the way the speed limit is higher than that), the driver has to take note of them at the rate of more than one a second — as well as watching the traffic. This way insanity lies.
Officialdom gives four main reasons for the latest utterance:
- Improving the streetscape by identifying and removing unnecessary, damaged and worn-out signs;
- Helping to ensure signs are provided only where they are needed;
- Minimising the environmental impact, particularly in rural settings;
- Reducing costs, not just of the signs themselves but maintenance and energy costs.
The only one of those that needs to be propounded is the third: environmental impact (in other words, gross eye-sores, defacing the streetscape and the landscape). The other three are either self-evident or even (especially with the first one) hazards.
Now let’s take an example: not from a main London highway, but from a quiet Nidderdale village (one pub, one shop, one bus an hour — none on Sundays) just outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Once upon a time:
And, a similar view today:
There are now seven metal signs, where once a single, simple (and very “English”) wooden fingerpost sufficed.