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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, no. Of course, I accept that one cannot easily stamp out illegal signs and that there is a problem. However, increased access to legal, properly designed and located signs with the official authority of the local highway authority is preferable to unofficial, illegal, badly designed signs which could be found at inappropriate places. I fully accept the problem raised by my noble friend Lord Marlesford about unsightly illegal signs. I can assure him that the Government see that as an important issue.
My noble friend Lord Mountevans argued that white and brown signs should not indicate merely the type of destination that is being signed but should provide evidence that they meet certain quality standards. The eligibility criteria were tightened up in 1991 at the request of the tourist boards. That was intended to improve standards rather than because of any evidence that the widespread use of white and brown signs was having an unacceptable impact on the environment or causing any confusion at junctions. However, more recently we have been reviewing the policy of limiting eligibility for signing because of the many representations received by my department that it did not meet the needs of the tourism industry as a whole.
When we reviewed the policy we received strong representations that the white and brown signs should be available for a much wider range of tourist destinations and facilities than those recognised by tourist boards and that it should not be left to the tourist
The detailed proposals, which we circulated on 3rd April, reflect a policy that signing applications should be determined on the basis of local road conditions and the safety and environmental implications of erecting signs at particular locations, rather than central prescription or blanket policies. They also reflect the Government's view that it is not the function of traffic signs to control or maintain standards of service in the tourism industry and that white and brown signs, like other direction signs, indicate the route to a particular destination and not official approval of its quality. The determination of the quality of the attraction should not be related to the sign.
That brings me on to the subject of the departmental guidance that has been issued, or that we intend to issue, to help local highway authorities to ensure that signs are safe and appropriate to their environment. The traffic signs regulations are supplemented by guidance on the design and placing of direction signs generally in order to enable local highway authorities to provide drivers with appropriate information to complete their journeys efficiently and safely. The DoT design guidance is underpinned by a solid body of research about drivers' ability to absorb information from signs of different shapes, sizes and colours. I was much taken with the idea of the pink sign, which was put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I am sure that there has been full research on the qualities of the colour pink for signposting
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, of course, the suggestion of the colour pink was a joke. However, the principle is one to which the Minister perhaps inadvertently referred. He distinguished between signage such as to major tourist attractions of the National Trust which have a seal of quality. That is what gives them the right to use the brown and white sign. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, was making the point that I made; that if we
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I note the point made by the noble Baroness and I will ensure that her suggestions regarding a further level of signing are taken fully into consideration. However, perhaps another type of sign could cause further confusion.
All white and brown tourist signs are required to meet the design and siting standards for direction signs generally to ensure that they are clear and legible. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, that that will continue to be the case under our current proposals.
The draft guidance also indicates that the responsibility for signing lies in the first place with the highway authority responsible for the road providing direct access to the tourist attraction or facility. There is little benefit to the tourist or to the business if signs are provided a long distance away but disappear as one approaches one's intended destination. We know from considerable research that lack of continuity in signing is the biggest cause of confusion, frustration and complaint.
We have had a full discussion on the issue of signing for tourist facilities. My noble friends and other noble Lords have made clear their views on the dangers associated with deregulation. However, I believe that there has been an acceptance of the value of deregulation and the fact that some relaxation is due. As has been noted, the Government have put forward detailed proposals. They have been subject to consultation and a wide range of responses has been received.
I conclude by repeating the assurance that the consultation will be taken extremely seriously. Responses to the consultation and the sentiments expressed tonight in your Lordships' House will be taken fully into account.
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