Giles Watling, MP for Clacton, has joined forces with Siobhan Meade, from Guide Dogs for the Blind, to call on businesses to get behind a voluntary initiative to keep streets safe for blind pedestrians.
This initiative has been launched in Frinton-on-Sea, to clampdown on A-boards in the town’s cluttered shopping streets. Businesses have previously been urged to keep streets safe for pedestrians in shopping areas, including Connaught Avenue. But some shopkeepers have ignored the request and are continuing to put advertising boards on the pavement. Giles believes that these are causing problems for the visually impaired, wheelchair users, pushchairs and mobility scooters.
Giles said: “We have businesses with street furniture outside their shops and there are A-boards across the pavement. I saw one business with four boards staggered across the pavement – for a blind person this would be a complete nightmare.
“My wife has worked for many years at Read House, around the corner from Connaught Avenue, which cares for people with sight problems. I’m aware of the issues they face and have been on the streets with Guide Dogs for the Blind in a blackout blindfold – it is a frightening experience. I have encouraged businesses to try their hand at it and I think they found it enlightening.
“I understand that businesses want to advertise, but we need shopkeepers to be more sensitive and to keep boards close to their shops – not in the middle of the pavement. The council has power to remove boards, but we want businesses to do it of their own volition – we don’t want to be draconian.”
Jon Wright, of Wrights Butchers in Connaught Avenue, called on all shopkeepers to get behind the initiative.
He said: “The high street is getting very cluttered now. Since early this year we have been putting everything inside and are doing what we can to leave a three-metre gap.
“I think the main issue is where businesses are competing for trade – this is all about making shopkeepers more aware. It was eye-opening to go out in the blackout mask - I’m sighted and thought I knew this road well, but in the mask you realise there are real hazards.”
Last year, Tendring Council appealed for shopkeepers to ensure their boards don’t cause a danger to shoppers following complaints from residents and visitors. The council said it is taking a “common sense” approach, but will be looking to take enforcement action against unauthorised if they are not removed.
It warned that if a pedestrian is injured there could also be public liability issues for businesses. Mr Watling said he is calling on shopkeepers to take action ahead of the summer season.