Julian Smith, Member of Parliament for Skipton and Ripon, has strongly criticised the Highways Agency for opposing the will of Ministers over the latest figures for the installation of brown signs to Masham.
Earlier this year, after a two year campaign, the Transport Minister gave the go-ahead for signage, removed during the upgrade of the A1, to be put on the route after recognising the economic importance of the signs to the town. He was unable to fund the work but asked the Highways Agency to work with the community to find a solution.
Since then, the MP and the community have been in discussions with the organisation on the options and costs for the scheme.
Brown signs southbound directing traffic to Masham off the A1(M) at junction 51, Leeming Bar, have now been agreed. These will be installed as part of the road improvements at no cost to the community.
However, northbound, the community wish to have two signs northbound directing traffic for Masham to leave the A1(M) at junction 50, Baldersby. The cost for this signage has been given by the Highways Agency as at least £36,000.
This is a significant reduction on earlier estimates for the work, but remains a disproportionately high figure, according to Julian Smith.
Julian Smith said:
I have been staggered by the sums of money being quoted for the installation of two brown signs and very disappointed by the lack of appreciation by the Highways Agency of the devastating economic impact that not having signage is having on Masham.
Organisations who spend taxpayers’ money, such as the Highways Agency, must ensure they cover their costs, but they also have a responsibility to support economic growth wherever possible and I do not believe they are currently taking that into consideration.
In my communications with the Highways Agency I have seen no understanding of the size of the businesses that these signs will benefit. These are, by and large, small, exceptionally hard working micro businesses. Some have lost 25 per cent of their business in recent years and believe the lack of signs off the A1 is to blame for a large proportion of that.
All I ask is that the Highways Agency put themselves in the shoes of those who are working flat out to create jobs and wealth in this part of North Yorkshire and think again about the size of the figures that they are quoting for two brown signs.
The MP has called for a debate on the issue in the House of Commons. He raised the matter with the Leader of the House of Commons Sir George Young who promised to look into the situation.
Parish Councillor Flo Grainger, who has been leading the campaign in Masham, added:
The lack of brown signs is having a devastating effect on many businesses in Masham and beyond which is why we have fought so hard for brown signs to be put on the A1 to direct traffic to our town and the Dales beyond.
We are not asking for anything new – the town was signed off the route before the upgrade and many shops, attractions and companies in the town have reported a severe drop in business since the signage disappeared.
We strongly feel that we are being singled out and treated unfairly. It is questionable that any attraction already signed has even paid a fraction of such a ridiculous fee. Half of the figure currently quoted would be difficult enough to raise for a small economically challenged rural area, even with our eminently successful and renowned local businesses.
The current figures are overwhelming and I hope the Highways Agency will reflect on them and do all they can to help Masham be put back on the map.