Cambridge City Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on the 16th of March 2009 discussed the new signage proposed for the city centre. My responses to the consultation on the proposals which was held in May 2008 are available via this link; we are yet to see how many, if any of the suggestions for improvements made by members of the public, have been taken up.
I would have liked to have seen the University given more prominence, the originally proposed maps have big voids in the city centre as the University is omitted, though the colleges are marked with numbers. The city’s tourist attractions were also not given due prominence, with the Mathematical Bridge and Kings College Chapel not specifically highlighted.
Cllr Taylor, the Liberal Democrat Chair of the committee declared an interest in this item, saying that she was always getting lost in Cambridge city centre.
The main new point mentioned was that the new signs are to carry advertising on the edge of the panels. So far eight or nine signs have been sponsored at a cost of £500/year each. It is hoped that the advertising might fund the future “repair and renewal” of the signs. No policy for what would be allowed was mentioned so it appears that if you can put up your £500 you can have anything you like written on these signs (suggestions welcome in the comments!).
Cllr Herbert asked what changes had been made as a result of the consultation. The council officer responsible Emma Thornton focused almost exclusively on points made in a “disability panel” meeting which had resulted in improvements to the clarity and contrast of the maps. There was no mention of other input, such as that from members of the public and independent retailers. Cllr Herbert asked for the final list of destinations to be labelled to be given to him, and was told that there had been very little change since the conception of the project. Emma Thornton claimed that the consultation had resulted in 98% support for the general design and appearance of the proposed signage; (the report on the consultation results presented to the county council said there was 84% support for the signage design. )
The hight of both the “finger signs” and the maps was queried by councillors. Cllr Taylor questioned readability by anyone in a wheelchair, and Cllr Herbert asked about children. Emma Thornton said the height of the pointer signs was so high to prevent people swinging off them and redirecting the signs. That sounds like a challenge! And surely other elements of design such as a sharp(ish) top surface could be used to prevent this too.
Cllr Ward (on a related matter also covered in the report) said he was disappointed that the blue area signs (pointing to Kite, Jesus, Brunswick etc.) were still being talked about, and asked if it was beyond the wit of man to send someone out to take them down. Cllr Cantrill told him that the County Council now recognised that these signs don’t work and should be removed. He said this would be a good step towards de-cluttering the city centre. I am baffled by why, if there is agreement, the Liberal Democrats don’t get on and do this. Perhaps they’re incapable of positive action will need one of the opposition councillors to formally propose it; and if that happens they might not vote against it.
Cllr Nimmo-Smith asked how extensible the scheme was, and how, as the city grows, it will allow for new names to be introduced. He used the example of providing signage to a new community stadium in Cambridge East (On the Marshall Airport site).
Cllr Taylor asked if the signs could incorporate technology to work with Sat. Nav. devices. (In my consultation response I asked if high tech options had been considered, bearing in mind that Cambridge is a high-tech city and perhaps ought be looking for high-tech features in its signage. eg. placecasting). Emma Thornton said this was outside the scope of the project.
Cllr Taylor asked about linking up with printed matter, and was told that this was very much the intention. Emma Thornton said she hoped that the map on panels would become the definitive map. She said she would also be using it as the tourist map of the city.
Cllr Cantrill said the project was welcome, both due to the slowdown in footfall and the concentration of shoppers towards the larger shopping centers.
Cllr Howell welcomed the project as it was something which might help the city’s independent retailers. He said that such retailers potentially had legitimate grievances with the Liberal Democrat councillors as they had shifted the centre of gravity of the shopping centre in the city. He also raised a concern about the council’s objectivity given its vested interest in the large shopping centers. He asked how much consultation there had been with independent retailers and what the risk was that they would say the scheme doesn’t satisfy their needs. He also asked about a £20K repair and renewal fund, he wanted to know who would hold this money, the City Council, County Council, or Love Cambridge and if sponsorship was successful at raising money if the money would be returned.
Emma Thornton replied to say that: “independents have been involved in the tiny detail”. She reported the 20K would be transferred to “Love Cambridge” and would be ring-fenced for the repair and renewal of the signage.
Councillor Raj Shah made a comment about Cambridge as a solar powered city, and suggested solar power ought be used to enable a system of pressing buttons next to the list of destinations and lights appearing on the map. I thought this was an odd comment, particularly given the stage in the project we are at. Emma Thornton said that the design of the maps was flexible enough to enable that to be looked at in the future, but to have done it at this stage would have increased the cost considerably.
The Liberal Democrats voted in favour of continuing with the scheme, opposition councillors Herbert (Labour) and Howell (Conservative) abstained.