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Gloucestershire Business News

Party over for £10K shopfront?

A standoff between a new cards and party shop and planners has stepped up a gear with a ruling that the business's £10,000 investment on signage must go.

The decision from Gloucester City Council – which the owners are considering appealing against – is the latest twist in a row Punchline reported last month  after Cards Direct launched its new outlet in the city's Eastgate Street as the first venture for the 50-strong national chain in the west of England.

Initially, planners recommended refusal to the shop's bright new look and Gloucester Civic Trust then threw its weight behind refusing the signage, stating: "We are not in favour of illuminated signs in the Conservation Area and feel that this particular design is not appropriate."

But after the business defended its position  in Punchline, neighbouring support was received. 

One resident urged that "the signage is a vast improvement on the previous vacant unit offering interest. This not only brings a shop back into employing several residents, but it also offers vibrancy through its clever use of colours and feels warm and inviting. I think this application enhances the stretscape [and] there are a lot of very similar colours in that stretch of Eastgate Street."

In the latest update to the standoff, John Bishop, planning development manager has ruled that the signs are out of order.

Mr Bishop said: "The proposed signage, by virtue of poor design quality, materiality and colour-scheme would neither preserve nor enhance the character and appearance of the City Centre Conservation Area. The harm brought about by this signage would not be outweighed by any resultant benefits."

The signs conflict with paragraph 201/202 of the National Planning Policy Framework, so permission would breach Section 16 of the Framework, and the statutory duty of Section 72(1) of the 1990 Act, he added, while the work was also contrary to Policy SD8 of the Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Joint Core Strategy and Policies D1 and F7 of the Gloucester City Plan.

"In accordance with the requirements of the NPPF the Local Planning Authority has sought to determine the application in a positive and proactive manner by offering pre-application advice, publishing guidance to assist the applicant, and publishing to the council's website relevant information received during the consideration of the application thus enabling the applicant to be kept informed as to how the case was proceeding."

Planning officers stepped in after the shop next door to Marks and Spencer, which was formerly a Carphone Warehouse, commenced trading, initially responding to a spec for permission for the work by reporting that it was "garish".

Their advice stated: "The proposed scheme is for internally illuminated signage with garish pink colours and is wholly inappropriate due to the negative and harmful impact it would have on the setting of those designated assets within the conservation area."

But Edward Bryan, estates manager for the Cards Direct chain, has subsequently told Punchline that the business, which now runs a staff rota of eight to ten people, can stay legal simply by switching off illuminated signage.

He added that the design and spec of the shop front, which cost up to £10,000, is identical to outlets throughout its UK chain.

Mr Bryan said: "We understand the council want to try and improve the streetscape and visuals of the streets in this area and the best way to do that is through units being occupied, rather than insisting on poor design non-illuminated signs that they can have no control over.

"There are a number of anomalies in the planning world where we can install a sign without illumination and it can be of almost any colour and design as long as it isn't illuminated with certain criteria being met which we have done and a number of other retailers have simply installed signage in the street without consent as it isn't required."

Subsequently, a situation can emerge, he said, "where our sign is almost identical to others that have been approved by the council with their standard corporate colours".

Mr Bryan told Punchline today: "We are weighing up whether to appeal or upgrade our application."

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