by Gaby Huddart
Government proposals for the deregulation of tourist signposting ran into stiff opposition in a House of Lords debate last week and have provoked objections from a number of tourism bodies.
The proposals, which were announced by the Department of Transport last month (News, 6 April), would mean hotels and restaurants could apply to erect brown and white tourist road signs alerting passers-by to their whereabouts. They have been barred from doing so until now.
But the proposals, which were in a period of consultation until 5 May, received a blasting from a House of Lords group led by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, former president of the Tourism Society.
"As the proposals stand there is a real risk that large numbers of signs could damage the very environment that tourists want to see, and that they could confuse rather than assist," he said.
"If hotels, pubs, fast-food establishments, supermarkets and picnic sites need and deserve further signs, could they not be known as tourist facility signs, and be in a different colour so as not to downgrade the credibility of the brown and white signs to proper tourist attractions?" he asked.
These views, echoed by a number of other peers, drew an assurance from Viscount Goschen, under-secretary for the Department of Transport, that such warnings would be closely investigated.
"I conclude by repeating the assurance that the consultation will be taken extremely seriously. Responses to the consultation and the sentiments expressed tonight in your Lordships' House will be taken fully into account," he said.
Doubts over the merits of the proposed deregulation have also been expressed by the British Tourist Authority (BTA). Although it has welcomed the principle behind the move, it claims there is widespread concern in the industry that the proposals are too broad and include no quality thresholds.
"Tourists equate these signs with a seal of official approval, yet under the new regulations ability to pay would be the only quality criterion for a business applying for a sign in England," said BTA chairman Adele Biss.
The BTA is calling for minimum quality criteria for those applying for a sign.
A number of government departments are now in talks over how the proposals should progress in England following the period of consultation. The Department of Transport expects to make an announcement within the next two months.
The Welsh and Scottish Offices are consulting separately on how signposting should change.