Brown Signs and Travel

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Tourist Signs

In just under a fortnight, the first meeting will be held between Visit Britain, the Highways Agency and the Department of Culture and Oddities to discuss brown signs, those signs that guide us to tourist sites and destinations.

Why?

Because the system is in a mess. But because it is a devolved subject meaning a different approach is taken in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland the committee meeting in England will help only one area. Consistency is what is needed so that motorists, walkers and visitors can see that a brown sign is an authoritative guide to a tourist site.

Last week, there was a short debate in the House of Commons about the subject introduced by Julian Smith , the MP for Skipton and Ripon, where there are many tourist and heritage sites. During the debate some of the idiocies shone through. In Haverfordwest, for example, the local MP – Simon Hart – pointed out that there was a brown sign directing you to a McDonalds. Now a McDonalds may be a tourist destination for some but for most it is a café and do cafes and restaurants justify a brown sign? Ripon Cathedral has no brown sign from the A1 because now it is deemed a religious site rather than a tourism/heritage site. Has no genius in the Highways Agency ever thought that it could be both? Even the minister, Michael Penning, thought this odd.

What logic is there in dishing out these signs? Where should they go? Do we want more signs to add to the graffiti littering our roads? Those are just some of the questions that need answering. I would add another. Sometimes you think that the signs are installed only by those who know how to get to the site in the first place. That’s not the case. Chances are most of us are going for the first time and need to have a bit of help. Not all cars have satnav. Smith pointed out that in rural areas, up to 16% of visitors, decide on the spur of the moment where to go based on the signs seen. No sign and a possible visit is lost. And it isn’t only in rural areas. When I visit a town or city to write about it, it is the signage that I often follow. And write about so that our readers can find places for themselves.

The rules in England say that you need to have 200,000 visitors pa or 40,000 a month to justify a brown sign. Why? That is just supporting those sites that have already attained brown signs. Many would grow if they had signage. It’s like a no-frills airline. Start a service at £1 and people will go. There are flights to airports that 30 years ago, airline planners wouldn’t have considered in a month of Sundays. The same will apply to having more brown signs. Erect a brown sign and people will visit but sensibly sited so that people can find and follow them.

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