One of the most effective ways of catching passing trade is the A-board.  You may use one to advertise specials on the menu, a current promotion or sporting event.  They are also invaluable if your establishment is not on the road but tucked away as a way of directing people to the premises or letting them know that you are open for business.

However, they are not without their problems.  A licence is required in most cases to use one, 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.  Each Council deals with applications in its own way and in many areas of the country local councils have been taking action to remove illegal A-boards.

Ban on A-boards in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has gone one step further and introduced a complete ban on A-boards.  The decision was taken to make “safer and more accessible streets” particularly for those with disabilities such as sight impairments and mobility difficulties.  The ban followed a public consultation with various stakeholders and was welcomed as a way of making the city welcoming to all visitors no matter what their disabilities.  It remains to be seen whether other cities, particularly those with narrow old streets, will follow suit despite the fall in trade that outlets will inevitably suffer.

Do you need permission to put up an A-board?

In short yes.  A-boards are only deemed to have consent if they are placed on your forecourt which is 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………”

NB – So 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 public highway.

Applying for a licence for an A-board

You are required to apply for a licence from your local authority to put up an A-board if it is to be placed on the public highway.  The same process applies where permission is sought for furniture and planters.  The statutory application process is complex and for this reason many local authorities have adopted their own approach to A-boards and have often drawn up their own standard guidelines covering 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.

Penalties for illegal signage

The Planning Authority can bring a prosecution in the Magistrates court against anyone who displays an advert illegally.  However, the first course of action is usually to write to the advertiser asking them to apply for the consent required.  If consent is refused and the advert is still not removed the maximum penalty is a fine of up to £2,500 and £250 for each day that it stays there.

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 – e.g. because 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.

Brown signs – an alternative

The white on brown tourist road signs are recognised as a way of directing tourists to quality attractions.   A business qualifies to apply for a sign if it fits the definition of a tourist attraction which can include restaurants, pubs and hotels.

If you wish to apply for a brown sign for your business you must apply to your local highways authority.  In many areas pubs will need to meet the cost of the application, design, manufacture and erection of the sign if permission is given.  Guidance on applying for a brown sign can be found here

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.