Trimstone Manor owner in battle with Devon County Council over £3,000 advertising sign

A North Devon hotelier has condemned Devon County Council for “bully boy tactics” after a long running struggle saw his main road side sign forcibly removed by Highways crews.

Philip Milton was granted planning permission by North Devon Council to erect the sign for Trimstone Manor next to the A361 near West Down last December, but the county said another licence was needed because it was on a public highway. A flurry of emails and letters between the two sides followed.

The large green sign went up on the roadside verge in June. In August the dispute continued, but Mr Milton said while he was under the impression it had yet to be resolved, the council came along, tore up the £3,000 sign and took it away.

It had originally been sited in the field owned by Mr Milton beside the road, but he said it had hardly been visible and was not advertising his business, especially in summer when the verge was not cut back adequately.

He said without the sign the turning was dangerous as other brown signs were inadequate and badly positioned.

After it was repositioned he said a letter from DCC demanded it be moved from the roadside verge or the council would have it moved at his expense.

“Regardless of the fact there was ongoing correspondence, they ignored me and simply instructed contractors to go and take it away,” he said.

Mr Milton said he had been told it would cost £650 plus VAT to get it back and they would not leave it with him.

“It’s bully boy tactics. I am trying really hard to make a viable business and preserve permanent jobs for the area,” he said.

“It’s not just what we are entitled to, it’s also the behaviour of the council and their heavy handed approach which has been disgusting.”

To make matters worse, Mr Milton said the initial assumption by all parties was that the hotel still owned the verge. He said only in August had the council gone to the Land Registry to discover it had been transferred to council ownership.

He has already made formal complaint to the council over its handling of the situation and intends to pursue legal action in order to get the sign reinstated and would be contacting the Local Government Ombudsman if the council did not deal satisfactorily with his complaint.

In response a Devon County Council spokesman said: “The sign was put up on a highway verge without our consent. Although permission was given by North Devon Council under the control of advertisement regulations, that doesn’t give permission to put up a sign on third party land.

“We wrote to Mr Milton requesting that he remove the sign by September 1, after which contractors would be instructed to remove it. Following his response, as a goodwill gesture we extended the deadline to September 15 to remove the sign, which he didn’t do, and so, as advised, our contractors removed it.

“We have since received a formal complaint which will we be dealing with under our complaints procedure.”

What do you think? Should the sign have been moved or was the council in the wrong? Email your comments to newsdesk@northdevongazetee.co.uk or post a comment online at www.northdevongazette.co.uk.