Bureaucrats order Masham sign removal

Mark Cunliffe-Lister looking at the sign locals placed alongside the A1 near to Sharow in May, which the borough council has forced campaigners to remove.
Mark Cunliffe-Lister looking at the sign locals placed alongside the A1 near to Sharow in May, which the borough council has forced campaigners to remove.

Brown sign campaigners are up in arms after bureaucrats ordered them to remove their own makeshift sign beside the A1, branding the 10x16ft structure “illegal”.

A taskforce of Masham businesses built and erected their own sign in May after official brown tourist signs were removed following the upgrade of the A1(M) – and the Highways Agency refused to replace them.

“It is just absurd and under the current economic circumstances you would think that Harrogate Borough Council would be supporting something which helps tourism and trade in the town,” Masham resident, Rob Hall, 42, told the Gazette.

“I can’t think of a good reason why they would want to remove the sign. It’s purely clipboard nonsense,” he said.

But Harrogate Borough Council officials have defended their planning order to have the sign removed, saying it had been erected on private land and at the edge of a motorway, making it “unacceptable and indeed illegal”.

A borough council spokesman said: “It was visually intrusive and wholly out of keeping with its rural surroundings due to its size, prominent siting and stark appearance.”

The spokesman conceded that it “does appear irregular to retain the southbound signage and dispense with the northbound signage” – but the matter is out of their control.

The Highways Agency refused to replace the northbound sign and told the parish council it would have to pay £36,000 for a new sign following the upgrade of the motorway. But the new sign cost the town just £3,000 – £33,000 cheaper than the original Highways Agency price tag – which was funded with the help of local businesses.

Masham parish Coun and Old Station Caravan Park owner Flo Grainger said: “I am absolutely incensed. It’s a huge blow to the town and we have once again be left with no direction whatsoever. It’s a disgrace. The borough council is letting a whole area down – not just Masham, but the entire Yorkshire Dales.”

Since the signs were removed, businesses in Masham reported up to a 30 per cent decline in visitor numbers and Old Station Café – also owned by Mrs Grainger – had to reduce its opening hours. Mrs Grainger said she has seen an increase in visitors since the temporary sign was put up. “People at the Steam Rally last weekend said they actually knew how to find us!” she added.

Masham Community Office has now started a ‘Keep Masham on the Map’ petition to be presented to the borough council, which was signed by nearly 200 people within the first 24 hours of its launch.

Writing on the Visit Masham website, Gaynor Pearson, who runs ArtisOn art studio and workshop, which helped create the DIY sign, said: “Just as the schools break up and visitors head for the Dales in one of the best summers we’ve had for years, just as everyone gets excited about the Grand Départ coming right past our door next year – ironically bringing with it huge economic benefits for our county – Masham and lower Wensleydale are cut adrift once again!”

- If you would like to sign the petition, visit www.visitmasham.com/keep-masham-on-the-map/