Riddle of the health centre and signs of a hat trick

When Liz Houghton opened the St Ives Complementary Health Centre on London Road, she wanted a particular sign to announce the new business. But her chosen sign-writer, Alex Thurston, of Wilburton-based Image Signs, assured her that she would not get plann

When Liz Houghton opened the St Ives Complementary Health Centre on London Road, she wanted a particular sign to announce the new business.

But her chosen sign-writer, Alex Thurston, of Wilburton-based Image Signs, assured her that she would not get planning consent.

A centuries-old law required that any sign over the public highway must be at a height that enabled a horseman wearing a top hat to pass safely under it. So that was what she applied for, and Huntingdonshire planners duly obliged.

But what was this archaic legislation that put yet another obstacle in the way of budding entrepreneurs, The Hunts Post wanted to know. And was it something our MPs, Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) and Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire), both of whom are on the House of Commons committee investigating it, put right in the massive Company Law Reform Bill that is now before Parliament?


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"I was told it had to be at least eight feet above the highway because of this ancient law," Mrs Houghton said. "But we couldn't find a rider in a top hat to test it."

The planners were bewildered. Huntingdonshire District Council suggested it might have been something the highway authority had insisted on.

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Cambridgeshire County Council highway engineer Richard Kingston was equally perplexed. "Signs need to be at a height that cyclists can pass underneath, but they don't often wear top hats."

His colleague Richard Preston, the county's acknowledged expert on such arcane matters, said there were height regulations, but they depended on the status of the highway.

Since the sign was over the pavement it would not have needed to be able to accommodate an articulated lorry.

"There may be some ancient legislation, but none that I know of," he said. "We try to take a practical approach."

Sign-maker Alex Thurston, who looks after Ely's much-lauded wrought-iron public loo signs, fingered planners at East Cambridgeshire District Council.

But ECDC spokesman Sean Gallagher snapped back: "That's apocryphal. It may have been the case until the First World War, but our planners wouldn't have said it was the case now.

"There may have been some confusion here."

With that statement of the blindingly obvious, the centre's joint owner Mrs Houghton can return to her irridology - the study of the iris - and naturopathic nutrition, specialising in food intolerances.

INFORMATION: The centre offers an array of complementary therapies from acupuncture to yoga. Details on 01480 492088 or www.stiveshealth.co.uk

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