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Council planning nightmare over flashing signs leaves pharmacist with £6k loss

After locals took to Facebook to complain about new flashing pharmacy signage, a council has rejected a pharmacist’s planning application despite previously telling him to keep the signs switched off “at all times” or paint them “green”. 

Wokingham Borough Council told contractor Olivier Picard he had to either switch off his illuminated pharmacy signs “at all times” or remove them completely earlier this month.

The decision came after locals from Twyford, Berkshire, took to Facebook to complain about the signs when they were erected in July. 

On a private Facebook page seen by C+D, a local complained about Newdays Pharmacy’s “completely unnecessary and distracting…neon flashing sign”, adding that “this is not Soho”.

The post garnered 157 comments, including claims that the signs were “headache inducing” and not “in keeping with Twyford as a village”.

Mr Picard told C+D this week (December 18) that the council informed him that he needed to have planning permission for the signs and that he turned them off “at the end of August”.

After five months, the council responded to his planning request saying it would deny the application unless the flashing lights were turned off or, Mr Picard told C+D, covered “with green paint".

A council spokesperson told C+D that the council ultimately “refused this application” because the signs would have an “unacceptable jarring visual impact”.


“It's ridiculous”


Mr Picard said that his first reaction was to ask “are you for real?”, adding that he “was lost for words” over “the absurdity of the situation”.

“Twyford is by no means an outstanding beauty”, he said. “It's a 1970s building that I'm occupying, it's red brick, the roof is falling apart - I promise you, this is not going to make the area worse.” 

“People absolutely adore [the signs] and everybody's saying that it's ridiculous”, he added.

Mr Picard’s planning application received dozens of comments, including from Twyford councillor Stephen Conway who said that the “illuminated crosses are fine” and suggested that “if they were on during business hours only and not flashing…most opposition will fall away”.

On Twyford’s Facebook group, other locals said that they saw “absolutely no problem with it at all” and stressed that the pharmacy crosses are “an internationally recognised sign”.

Another said that they liked the “touch of continental flair” the signs added to “a quiet high street”.

In an email sent to Mr Picard earlier this month (December 5) and seen by C+D, the council said it appreciated “the number of comments received in support” but that they did not “outweigh the identified harm to designated heritage assets”.

A decision notice issued days later (December 8) confirmed that the planning application had been refused.

Mr Picard told C+D that he plans to appeal the decision.


“My business increased enormously”


Mr Picard also told C+D that the planning issues have left him significantly out of pocket. 

He said that “the planning application was about £200-300” and that the council “wouldn’t accept it” until it was designed by a planner, who cost him “another £300”.

“Plus the cost of the crosses”, which he said he paid around £6,000 for, “the whole thing has cost between £6,000 and £8,000”.

He told C+D that he had been “prepared to invest in the crosses” because whilst they were lit up “business increased enormously”.

Commenting on the signs, which featured advertisements of Newdays Pharmacy’s ear wax removal and travel vaccination services, one Twyford local said on Facebook that they “notified” them of a service that they “didn’t know” the pharmacy offered and “needed”.

Another said they “didn’t know [Newdays] provided ear wax removal service until [they] spotted [the] new sign”, adding that they would “pop in for that”.

Highlighting the closures of other pharmacies, one group member commented that “bringing attention to services that are offered at Newdays can only be a good thing for a local independent pharmacy”.

“I intended to highlight and remind people of the availability of healthcare where they live”, Mr Picard said, adding that the signs acted as a reminder for those “tempted to go online…that we are here for them”.


“Unacceptable jarring visual impact”


A council spokesperson told C+D that the council “refused this application as it was overly prominent internally illuminated design and excessively high installation on the host building”.

They said that the proposed illuminated signs appear “at odds with other signage in the vicinity”.

They added that the signs would have an “unacceptable jarring visual impact and harm to the character and historical significance of Twyford Conservation Area”.

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