Retailer switches off lights in planning impasse
By Simon Hacker | 19th July 2023
A new Gloucester high street shop has hit back at a decision that its signs are too 'garish' – and said the council is killing its retail vibe.
Conservation officers at Gloucester City Council have recommended refusal of planning permission for the design of the new shop front at 8A Eastgate Street – which is now open for business.
As reported last week, Cards Direct Retail Ltd looks set to be told to go back to the drawing board after the council said the look of the former Carphone Warehouse, next door to Marks and Spencer in the pedestrianised street, is out of keeping.
Citing its Gloucester City Plan, adopted in January this year, Policy D1 insists new development proposals must "conserve the character, appearance and significance of designated and non-designated heritage assets".
A conservation report said Cards Direct, located in a late 20th century building in the City Centre Conservation Area, is "within the setting of St Michaels Tower, which is a scheduled monument and grade II* listed building".
The report ruled: "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."
It added that the look would be a "green light to incremental harm" and ruled the scheme "has not had regard for the guidance within the Shopfronts, Shutters and Signage, Design Guidelines for Gloucester adopted guidance 2017. The proposed internally light [sic] and poorly designed signage could not be considered as an enhancement to the character of the conservation area," it added.
But a stand-off looks likely after the business told Punchline it can comply within planning rules simply by switching off illuminated signage.
Edward Bryan, estates manager for the Cards Direct chain, said the design and spec of the shop front, which cost up to £10,000, is identical to the outlets in its UK chain.
He said the business will turn off any illumination that stay within the law and the move "is something we do generally on occasions where we install our signage before formal consent has been given."
Mr Bryan added: "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".
He added; "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."
Explaining the reasons for coming to Gloucester, he added that the privately owned greeting card retailer opened its first store in 2012 and has grown its estate steadily, now operating from over 50 stores throughout the UK.
"We are continuing to expand with an ambitious growth plan backed up by a sustainable business model. We operate a vertically integrated model, designing and manufacturing our greeting cards in our own production facility in the UK."
The business chose Gloucester as its first flag on the retail map for the South West, he added.
"We believe in the town centre and that it is a regionally important shopping destination. We currently employ between 8 to 10 members of staff in each of our stores and have recently been voted into the top 100 most loved retail brands by Savanta:BrandVue, being the only newcomer into the list as voted for by over 96,000 consumers."
"One of our main values and aims is 'Making People Smile'. We achieve this through providing high quality product at value prices and also through use of vibrant colours throughout our stores, starting off with our fascia sign.
"The sign installed is in our standard corporate colour palette and is of a strong design and build quality, with individually built letters which is considered the most aesthetic way of constructing an aluminium sign of this nature."
The design is also "in the same vein", he claimed, as the recent Starbucks sign at 25 Eastgate Street, he said - which the council approved.
"We invest heavily into our stores and always aim to create bright and inviting shop fits. In these challenging times, it is important that we look to create some difference and excitement on the high street. One of the ways that this can be achieved is through bright and attractive colours.
"There are several vacant units along Eastgate Street and inside the Eastgate Centre, as well as Kings Walk," he added. "Without inward investment into the town centre with new tenants filling up these vacant spaces the area will only decline further."
Punchline has approached the City Council for comment; a final decision date on the application is unknown.
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