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Sod the motorists - grab the cash!

Our correspondent writes ...

At the Bexley Planning Committee meeting on 5th March 2004 there were 21 applications by a company called Marketing Force Limited to erect advertising signs on roundabouts and flowerbeds within the borough.

The idea is that one sign is erected to face motorists entering the roundabout from each approach road. The signs themselves are roughly 32" wide by 16" deep and will be mounted on two 1-metre high posts so that the top is about 2'-6" above the ground. The signs will contain the Borough's logo and the advertisement of the sponsor - company name, logo, corporate message or web address. The deal is that Marketing Force sells the advertising space to local businesses and the Council receives an undisclosed sum from Marketing Force - so undisclosed, in fact, that when non-cabinet council members asked how much the Council would receive they were told the sum was part of the confidential contract that was being drawn up between the council and the contractor. So much for democracy!

The council officer who presented the case stated that the initiative had come from, and was approved by IDeA - the Improvement and Development Agency; a government department that advises councils. However, when I asked IDeA for information about their advice to Bexley Council, they could not find anyone who had spoken to the council on this matter and told me the scheme was NOT approved by them.

Three of the four Conservative councillors present at the planning meeting objected strongly to the proposal on road safety grounds and another Conservative, Cllr Val Clark, attended the meeting specially to give an impassioned plea that the application be rejected on safety grounds. She also told members about another council committee that is currently investigating the possibility of removing some of the existing clutter on Bexley's roads. None of the councillors on the planning committee had even heard of its existence. Talk about the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing!

Two members of the public were each allowed to speak for the statutory two minutes in objection and they did so quite vociferously. All in all, they put up a good case for rejecting the application. After all, every driver knows that, when entering a roundabout, one's eyes must be looking to the right watching for a safe gap. The last thing one needs is a distractive hoarding straight ahead that advertises the local second-hand car dealer, estate agent or funeral director.

Later discussion revealed that the Borough's Road Safety Officer had not been consulted because his responsibility was "to instruct schoolchildren in road safety matters". Road safety matters were the responsibility of the Borough's Traffic Engineers - God forbid that our safety is entrusted to the very people who are already cocking up the Borough's roads! It also appears the police were never consulted - they just have to clear up the mess when the accidents happen.

So, after all the discussions, it was time to vote. So you might expect that commonsense would surely prevail? Wrong! All the labour councillors and one of the conservatives, all with eyes glinting like one-armed bandits, voted in favour of most of the applications - roughly 7 votes to 3 each time.

It was a perfect example of how easily money can corrupt certain people at the expense of all other considerations. So, if you lose a friend or relative in an accident at one of Bexley's roundabouts it could well be that the commercial distractions were the cause. In which case, these are the people you should blame:

  1. The officers in the planning department
  2. Councillors John Eastaugh, Rick Everitt, P Hollamby, Tonya Kelsey, John Pegg, Richard Lucas and John Waters. They all voted in favour of the applications, i.e. cash before safety.
  3. IDeA - The Improvement and Development Agency - yet another government quango that obviously promotes daft ideas.

Editorial Comment:

Another major question this issue poses is ... just how many confidential commercial deals do Bexley, and other councils, have? Oh yes, Marketing Force appear to have mugged several other councils around the country. And, if councils have considerable secret external revenue, why do they keep hiking the council tax rises well in excess of inflation?

TR Nunn of Winsford writes:

The Council may be found guilty of entrapment. As a result they could be guilty of 'corporate manslaughter' if anyone dies as a result of their foolish act (2005 Act). Their only defence would be to prove that they took the safety of road users into account when making their decision. A full audit trail would be necessary.

It is quite clear they didn't seriously take the safety of road users into account when using their discretion to place adverts on the roundabout, therefore, the Council could end up being found guilty of corporate manslaughter with some of the top brass going to jail. Do the councillors fully understand that they are gambling with their own freedom as well as the lives of road users?

Martyn, Chesham writes:

Marketing Force currently charge between 250 and 400 per month per roundabout, so 21 applications equates to a revenue for Marketing Force of up to 100,800 per annum. I suspect at a revenue share of 50% not many councils will refuse. Given the number of available roundabouts in Bexley this figure is set to sky-rocket. Unfortunately road safety will never be an issue where there is revenue to be had.

Mr Killingbeck of Truro writes (on 17/11/2011):

Many thousands of pounds are spent each year by local councils, in an attempt to brighten up our suburban areas with floral displays, and eyecatching foliage displays. These displays are there to be seen and even whilst driving they can be absorbed subliminally and can only have a positive effect.

The signs themselves are no more of a distraction to a driver than any standard shop sign in the high street, indeed much less so than most. I have knowledge of the average cost of maintaining a floral roundabout which are very high, so much so that i am certain that should it become general public knowledge, there would be a faction of the community who would like to see it done away. This would be a great shame, especially as there are businesses out there who are willing to contribute to its upkeep and all that they are asking in return are a few small signs that acknowledge that funding.

Oh and by the way, what a great way of helping visitors who are having trouble with directions, i.e. 2nd left at the Boots roundabout then right at the M&S straight over the Travis Perkins and so on. Allow the councils to find funding the 21st century way, after all they are being capped so much by the government, it would be a shame to lose these delightful displays altogether, just because a few people have been sucked into the health & safety epidemic that is sweeping the nation and who obviously have no knowledge of what the human brain is capable of taking in at any one moment.

Finally i would just like to add that we still live in a democratic society and however "roughly" it may be 7 votes to 3 is a majority and if T R Nunn of Winsford or Martyn of Cheshire are drivers and do not feel safe with these sponsorship boards trying to distract them, then i pray that i am never on a high street that they're driving on.

Alan Jones of Bexley writes (on 24/1/2012):

You need to get out more you sad individual. This is making money for the council. If your council tax went up you would be moaning.

Editorial Comment:

I'd prefer to be thought of as a 'sad individual' rather than a 'stupid twat' who actually thinks councils make money to keep the council tax down! Councils throw money at suppliers who offer them rip-off prices to provide unnecessary services.

They also use our money to employ countless numbers of dunderheads to work on totally worthless tasks - tasks that the ratepayers could happily manage without if it would help to reduce the council tax. But perhaps you are one of these?

"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill

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