The Garden House Pub in Durham was told by the council to remove A-Boards placed on a grass verge some 30 yards in front of the pub because they were in breach of highways law as they were distracting to drivers and could easily have blown into the road.  This was despite the fact that they had been there for 5 years and were essential in directing customers to the pub.  Durham County Council said that “removing illegal advertising signs on the highways” was one of its “top priorities”.

One of the most effective ways of attracting passing trade to a pub or restaurant is the A-Board.  It might be a handwritten sign to advertise specials on the menu or a current promotion.    Alternatively, if your establishment is tucked away from the main road, an A-Board can be invaluable in directing people to the premises or letting them know that you are open for business.

However, A-Boards are not without their problems, as illustrated in the example above.  A licence is required in most cases and even where this is granted it can have a series of conditions attached to it.  Councils are understandably concerned to keep the highways safe and unobstructed.  In many areas of the country local councils have been taking action to remove illegal A-boards.  Boards can be removed if they are oversized, if no licence is displayed by the trader and particularly where no licence has been applied for.  After a warning letter has been issued boards are often impounded and traders must pay a fee for their return.

Do you need permission to put up an A-Board?
In short yes.  Some specific forms of advertising are exempt from the need for permission under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 – e.g. sandwich boards worn by staff walking up and down the High Street.  Some other limited forms of advertisement are deemed to have consent – e.g. the name sign that hangs outside your pub.  For more detail see our previous article “Signs to promote your business – keep it legal”

A-Boards, however, are not exempt under the Regulations and they are only deemed to have consent if they are placed on your forecourt – defined as ‘an area of land (whether or not enclosed) within the curtilage of the building or part, to which the public may have access only with the permission (express or implied) of the owner’. It is important to note that this would not give deemed consent for an A-Board placed on the pavement outside a pub or cafe as this forms part of the highway.

Applying for a Licence for an A-Board
You are required by s.115B of the Highways Act 1980 to apply for a licence from your local authority to put up an A-Board.  The same process applies where permission is sought for furniture and planters.  The process under s.115 is complex and for this reason many local authorities have adopted their own approach to A-Boards.  You will need to find out how your local authority deals with licences for A-Boards in your area. 

In Nottinghamshire, for example, a set of guidelines have been produced and as long as boards comply with these they are acceptable to the local authority.  Similarly, In the Wirral, a licence is required but no application fee is payable where the board complies with the standard conditions set out by the Council.  The guidelines drawn up by local councils cover points such as the size of boards, stability, removal at the end of the day, liability and insurance in case of accident etc.

Some of the main concerns for local authorities when considering licence applications will be:

  • whether consent of the owner of the site has been obtained
  • maintaining free passage of the highway – A-Boards can present a danger to elderly persons, the partially sighted and those with pushchairs or wheelchairs
  • preventing a danger to highway users – boards are unlikely to be permitted near traffic junctions, signals or pedestrian crossings
  • the effect on the local area – A-Boards can make an area look untidy and many councils encourage other forms of advertising – e.g. boards on wall of property, in windows, flags, overhead signs etc
  • where listed buildings are concerned the granting of licences will obviously be stricter and in many conservation areas A-Boards are not permitted at all.

Removal of Boards
The local Council has a right to remove immediately any A-Board which is causing an unreasonable obstruction and presents an immediate danger.  If the Board presents an obstruction but not an immediate danger then the Council will send a warning letter requesting that the owner removes the board.

Indemnity Insurance
Anyone who places an A-Board on the highway is potentially liable to any person who suffers an injury caused by that board, if for example they trip over it or it distracts them from driving and they have an accident.  It is essential therefore that you hold adequate public liability indemnity insurance to cover such claims and this is often required by councils before a licence for an A-Board will be granted.

Innovative approach
South Norfolk Council has listened to the plight of local pubs many of which are hidden down country lanes and has agreed to help them advertise by the main road.  This is hailed as a landmark scheme as for only £95 it allows landlords to put up a green, cream or beige sign beside the main road pointing to their premises.  Permission of the relevant landowner must be obtained and only a limited number of signs will be permitted but this is undoubtedly good news for pub owners in the area and it is to be hoped that other Councils follow suit.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.