Signage policy to stay

Urunga Antiques operates out of the Raleigh Industrial Estate.Bellingen Council won’t change its signage policy to accommodate one person operating a ‘marginal’ business from the Raleigh Industrial Estate.

For the second time in as many months, the owner of Urunga Antiques, Paul Hynes addressed Councillors on the plight of his business caused by the ‘rigid enforcement’ of council’s signage policy, which prohibits the erection of signs that are not adjacent to the business.

Mayor Mark Troy said: “What distinguishes Bellingen Shire from other local government areas is the distinct lack of ugly signage along our roadways. We don’t need to be like Nambucca, Coffs Harbour or Parramatta Road for that matter”.

“The Raleigh Industrial Estate is probably not the best location for a business that depends on retail trade,” Cr Troy said.

Cr Bruce Cronin said he felt some compassion for Mr Hynes “but you opened a retail business in the Raleigh Industrial Estate”.

Cr Shaun Tuohy said it was not appropriate to change Council’s signage policy “for one marginal business”.

However, Cr Gordon Braithwaite said it was time to review the out-dated 1990 signage policy.

After Mr Hynes addressed the June meeting, Councillors agreed that the directional signage board outside the Industrial Estate needed to be reviewed and the names of the businesses made larger.

Cr Kerry Child said that in response to these concerns, Council had erected bight blue directional signs to the Industrial Estate.

As well, Cr Troy said the directory sign board would be replaced and moved to the other side of the road. “It’s a work in progress.”

During his address, Mr Hynes said he was not the only person to complain about the signage policy. He lodged a petition with over 800 signatures calling for a review of the signage policy.

“Public opinion obviously means nothing to you (councillors),” he said. “All I want is a fair go. I need a sign on Short Cut Road to boost my shop.”

Council’s Director of Environmental Health and Planning, Charlie Hannavy said local businesses were allowed to erect signs for advertising, but were limited to erecting signs on the property to which the sign related.

“This has been Council’s policy for at least the last decade, and has allowed businesses to adequately advertise their presence, while at the same time maintaining the unique natural and heritage aesthetic of the Bellingen Shire,” Mr Hannavy said.

“It has in effect been an exceptionally effective Signage Policy, and to date no business other than Urunga Antiques has complained about the policy. The policy was transferred to the new Bellingen Local Environmental Plan (BLEP) in 2010, without any notable public reaction during the exhibition process. It is not in the public interest to change the current Signage Policy to allow the Shire to be visually polluted by a proliferation of unnecessary signage,” he said.

“It is natural for people to support a small business when it is seen to be struggling for survival. It is clearly evident that the retail sector in Australia is facing difficult circumstances at present. However, the issue here is not as a result of Council’s Signage Policy. The cause is a mix of changing consumer sentiment and preferences, as well as economic uncertainty.

“In the case of Urunga Antiques, an industrial estate is not necessarily an ideal location for a retail function. If the business relies on the retail function for survival, then the industrial estate is probably the wrong location for this business. A town centre business area with main street exposure would be more appropriate,” Mr Hannavy said.

“It is also important to note that Urunga Antiques is only permissible in the industrial estate on the grounds that the core component of the business is industrial activity, i.e. in the subject case, the repair/renovation of antiques. The retail function, i.e. the sale of goods, is only permissible as an ancillary use to the core industrial activity. If the retail function is in fact the dominant component of the land use on which the business relies for survival, then the business is not permissible in the industrial estate.”

Mr Hannavy said that in relation to retail advertising in general, it was questionable whether increased physical signage increases sales. “Advertising signage is primarily an American phenomenon, readily adopted in Australia. However, businesses in economically successful countries such as Germany and Switzerland survive and prosper with minimal physical signage. In the current economic climate, businesses can enhance their prospects of survival by embracing the internet and other electronic media.”

Current status of A-frame sign:

Mr Hannavy said the request for a change to the Signage Policy arose because Council asked the proponent to remove a utility vehicle displaying an A-frame sign, which was advertising the Urunga Antiques business.

“Following discussions with the proponent, Council agreed to obtain legal advice concerning the legality of the A-frame sign displayed on the vehicle. Council subsequently received legal advice from its Solicitors to the effect that the utility vehicle with an attached A-frame sign is in fact an advertising structure. On this basis, the sign is subject to Council’s sign controls contained in the Bellingen Local Environmental Plan (LEP). Under the LEP such a sign is prohibited, because it is not displayed on the property to which it relates. Council has since advised the proponent of this advice, and has requested that the proponent now remove the sign.”

He said it was important from an environmental and social perspective that Council enforced its adopted policies and applied the law equally to all constituents.

“It is not a sustainable form of governance for Council to either ignore or change its own policies simply because one particular business disagrees with them, and when there is no compelling public interest reason to change them,” Mr Hannavy said. “If Council wishes to maintain a sustainable environment, then it needs to ensure that appropriate controls on visual pollution are maintained.”

Mr Hynes will be advised that following consideration of the petition and its implications, “Council finds no compelling public interest reason to change its current Signage Policy”. Only Cr Braithwaite voted against the resolution.

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