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Record of Public Meeting on 06.07.17: Shopfront Design and Signage

Record of Public Meeting on 06.07.17: Shopfront Design and Signage
July 6, 2017 admin

A public meeting was held at Hope Church, Hoylake at 7pm on 6th July 2017 to discuss Shopfront Design and Signage. 15 people were present.

Mark Howard gave a presentation of the issues based on the Shopfront Design Guide booklet produced originally in 2011 by Hoylake Village Life and drew attention to the section on the website inviting comment and providing background and supporting information.

A transcript of the presentation follows:

Welcome to this public meeting of Hoylake Vision Community Planning Forum… one of a series of open ‘themed’ meetings we are holding between now and 2020, each on a different issue which we think needs to be reflected in the next version of the Neighbourhood Development Plan – the NDP, which will run from 2020 to 2025.

If you’re not already aware, the current NDP was “made”, or written in to the Council’s Local Plan, last December, following a successful referendum in which local people voted in favour of the NDP.

So it is now a statutory piece of planning framework and as such the objectives, priorities and policies within it must be used when planning decisions are made.

Firstly I want to give a little background to this particular issue – about shopfront design.

We did try to put a Policy on Shopfront Design into the current NDP but it was rejected by the examiner as we did not have enough evidence to support our rationale for having such a policy. That’s what we hope to begin to address now.

So, why do we think shopfront design is important?

Well, part of our Vision Statement is “To maintain Hoylake as an environmentally attractive seaside town and socially inclusive place to live, work in and to visit.” It goes on: “To support a vibrant town centre, which meets the day-to-day needs of local people and provides high quality food, drink and entertainment opportunities for residents and visitors.”

Well, there’s no doubt that the health of a retail centre is complex issue – there are lots of factors involved – but the attractiveness, or otherwise, of a shopping centre does influence footfall. And that’s one area where we can make a difference.

This influence on footfall is the reason why most local councils have a shopfront design guide; some cover the whole parish, borough or county area; others are drawn up for individual town centres.

But in 2009 Wirral Council had nothing, just a one page policy – Policy SH8 – on their website.

Here it is.

So in 2010, before Hoylake Vision became established, Hoylake Village Life created a rather more comprehensive Shopfront Design Guide – here it is – as part of a set of activities we were embarking upon to try to tackle the issue of empty shops: back then over 25% of shops were vacant.

Things are certainly better now than they were in 2009 but the issues in this document are no less relevant now than they were then.

It’s a well-researched document that was intended as a conversation starter to get some feedback from the wider public and local businesses about how they felt about the issues. The document essentially looks at four main areas:

  • Overall design This generally means the design style and materials used and their appropriateness in the context of the area.
  • Security What measures are appropriate, and how do these measures affect appearance and perceptions of individual units as well as the overall street-scene?
  • Signage Is it professionally designed and is it made well?
  • Accessibility Can people with disabilities find easy access?

When this first draft was ready, we had a meeting with WMBC who said they would not adopt it since it was technically unenforceable – although they might consider endorsing it as a supplementary guidance document.

That never happened.

However in 2013 they published a Traders toolkit – here it is – which covers some of the issues, albeit much more briefly.

This document essentially repeats, albeit in a more attractive fashion, the principles outlined in Policy SH8.

But the real issue was this: the council were still not enforcing Policy SH8.

Why? Well, because of the somewhat vague wording of Policy SH8 it’s open to interpretation… and some property or business owners were making changes and only applying for retrospective planning permission if and when required to do so.

For example, it states: “company colours, logos, and advertising should be designed and applied with reference to the character of the area, the building concerned and its neighbours”, yet does not provide any examples of what that might mean in a particular location, leaving it wide open to subjective interpretation. The phrase “and its neighbours” also leaves the policy open to adjacent poor quality precedent being cited by applicants when challenged.

For example, one business put up a solid roller shutter without permission, which they were not supposed to do, and when challenged they just said, “well, there’s a precedent… it fits the surrounding street scene because there’s lots of other shutters…”.

The council approved it.

It’s arguably either ignorance of, or a deliberate misreading of, Policy SH8 which can be used to get around the rules… if challenged in court the council would have to think carefully… the risk (and likelihood) of losing that challenge would cost public money and time. So quite simply they don’t enforce their own policy.

That’s why in our view SH8 is a poorly written policy that ultimately carries little or no weight in practice… and that’s why we think we need a new policy in the Hoylake NDP.

Now that’s not to say that all changes made without prior permission were, or are, bad… we’ve got some really good high quality new shopfronts and signage in Hoylake.

But let’s face it… not all new shopfronts – particularly signs, are good, some appear that are downright horrible!

But we’re not here to single any one out. We’re here to find out what you think.

We think we need a clearly worded, consistently applied and enforced policy if the overall street scene is to improve over time – because it’s inevitable that shopfronts and signage will be replaced – and the presence of the NDP will ensure those standards are maintained.

It doesn’t need to be a difficult or controversial suggestion, it’s just fair and sensible.

Let’s just take a quick look at each of the four areas I mentioned before.

ONE: Overall design

This generally means the design style and materials used and their appropriateness in in the in the context of the area. We’re fortunate in Hoylake that, for the most part, our Victorian and Edwardian built heritage is largely intact.

But there’s no doubt that over time the quality of some of that has been undermined by unsympathetic changes. And a number of more recent buildings have generally been of a poor quality design… this is not unusual in any town centre, where profitability often takes precedence over quality.

But if we can make a difference moving forwards by having a policy in place that more clearly requires good design and quality, we can ensure things improve in future.

And in case you are wondering, the design guide does not say that traditional design is the only way forward: we make it clear that the key marker is ‘quality’ above all else.

A really contemporary shopfront can look great next to a good quality traditional shopfront… but only if it is of good quality design and materials.  Cost is important… and you may have some comments on that… we don’t want to put businesses off coming to Hoylake; it’s a fine balance.

TWO: Security

The issues around security shutters are many and complex.

Some businesses report that it is a stipulation of their insurance company…

They need to challenge that… because according to Adrian Forber of the Association of British Insurers, less than 4% of solid external roller shutters have been installed on the insistence of insurance companies, and then only in places where there is a very high crime rate that leads to repeat claims.

Sergeant Tony Powell, Avon and Somerset Constabulary points out that “90% of burglaries against shops are carried out by more traditional methods involving insecured windows or rear doors.” He goes on to point out that shutters actually provide cover for burglars who have entered the rear of a premises by making their activity invisible to passers by. He says there is no need to have a ‘Fortress Mentality’ and shutters are not the only option.

And Wirral Council say, “Solid shutters are considered unacceptable as they create a dead frontage at night and create a negative visual impression of the area. Solid shutters are also susceptible to graffiti.” In short, a run of adjacent shutters actually reinforce a negative impression of an area.

In Hoylake, with a very low crime and burglary rate, below regional and national averages, the most common issue faced is not burglary, but broken glass as a result of anti-social behaviour. It’s still thankfully a rare occurrence, but there’s no doubt this is a costly and hugely inconvenient thing to happen to any business.

But shutters are not the only option. The guide offers alternatives such as brick bond shuttering, which can be placed internally or externally, that allows light to spill onto the street whilst allowing passers-by to see what is on display… surely good for any business.

THREE: Signage

Look around… look at the signs you see. Which are attractive and which are not?

As a general rule, a sign with too many different fonts and type sizes and logos is a bad thing. A sign with one or two fonts at the most is a good thing.

Too many colours, or clashing colours are bad because they confuse the eye.  A sign with two or three colours (including black or white) is a good thing.

Cheap materials too… more often than not, digitally printed thin aluminium or plastic signs are bad as they don’t mount well and often look, well, cheap!

Well designed, cut out, screen-printed or hand-painted lettering, made from wood, glass or metal, is a good thing.

This also applies to A boards, wall mounted boards, banners… a proliferation of these, unchecked, end up degrading the overall street scene and create something called ‘visual clutter’.

This is also what happens when a number of businesses on a street start to compete for attention by using the biggest, brightest, flashiest signs, without permission.

The cumulative effect of this is that people are actually put off using the shopping area, as it gives the impression of poor quality, and footfall goes down… a kind of crazy, mutually assured destruction!

FOUR: Accessibility

Can people with disabilities find easy access? Current legislation already requires business premises to be accessible but can we do more to ensure this is applied and considered when businesses make changes to the layout of their shopfronts or entrances? Is there anyone here who can help us with this?

In order to get the original  Policy HS4 (now HS6) into the next iteration of the NDP in 2020 we need your help to address the examiner’s concerns. So sit down with a cuppa, and have a read of the design guide, and look around Hoylake, and talk to people:

  1. We need to provide evidence and an explanation of the desirability of ensuring a high standard of shopfront design. This may come in the form of, for example, data on how shopfront design quality impacts positively on footfall and tourism, with examples of similar towns that have benefitted. A retail professional from the community may be able to advise and support this process.
  2. Hoylake Vision need to formally adopt the draft design guide from Hoylake Village Life and subsequently update and finalise the content. Through an emerging process of public consultation we need to demonstrate public support for the ideas within it. We know from responses to the initial survey that such a policy would have support but we need specific responses to the finished document, with particular reference to the issue of shopfront security.
  3. We need to talk to the council about enforcement. With clearer policy wording, and the NDP status as a community-led document, we will be in a stronger position to make this happen.

Whatever we do must not put an unacceptable financial burden on businesses, but we do think that with a little co-ordination and collaboration we can improve and maintain the attractiveness of Hoylake’s retail centre and in that way contribute to an increase in footfall over time. It’s not about gentrification: it’s about making Hoylake a better place to live for residents; a better place to do business, and a better place for people to to visit. We can get that balance right.

The meeting was then opened up to the floor for a conversation about the issues raised. The following points were made:

  1. It would be too restrictive to impose a Design Guide on new and existing businesses. Issues around colour and signage are subjective; it is not the role of the forum to dictate. MH responded that there are some principles of aesthetics that cannot be ignored; we know, and there will be a broad consensus, when something is really bad, or really good. There is less of a consensus on what might be deemed mediocre or ‘average’. The intention of the Design Guide is to give supporting information to businesses who seek it.
  2. It was agreed that the Design Guide as a whole was not appropriate for statutory inclusion in the NDP but should remain an advisory document.
  3. However the information on Shutters and Security was deemed acceptable as policy to enforce with a view to reducing the risk of proliferation in future and to reinforce the Council’s existing policy on Shopfront Shutters.