Do I Need Planning Permission for Outdoor Signs?

Mark Woolmer

We often speak with clients concerned about whether they require formal approval to erect a sign outdoors – or whether there are planning costs to build into their budgets when designing a new signage installation.

While planning rules may vary between local authorities, particularly in conservation regions or historical towns and cities, the norm is to allow businesses and organisations to display signage at their discretion since this type of display falls outside the scope of planning control.

However there are obligations that signage owners are expected to comply with, and varied categories of signs that may help indicate whether or not planning consent is likely to pose an issue.

What Are the Planning Rules on Displaying Outdoor Signs?

As we’ve mentioned, signs are categorised, which deems the planning regulations that may apply. In all of the below scenarios, it is unlikely that the local council will expect you to submit a planning application:

  • Displaying signage on private land or in an enclosed space.
  • Creating signage that provides safety information, directions or other important details for site users or visitors, including notice boards and warning signs.
  • Signs that show the name or logo of the business or person trading from a premise, such as a welcome sign.

There may be some exceptions, which we’ll discuss shortly, but the vast majority of outdoor signs fall within the above categories or are otherwise not subject to planning control procedures. Outdoor signs larger than 0.3 square metres may require approval – but that is more common where there are localised rules that limit outdoor displays.

Temporary signs, such as notices about forthcoming events, are normally permitted, provided they are removed in good time and are no larger than 0.6 square metres.

planning permission for sign

When Might an Outdoor Sign Need Planning Permission?

Professionally designed signage is broadly seen as an asset, benefiting members of the public, site users, and visitors to an area.

Signage boards communicate essential information, share maps and directions to nearby facilities and amenities, prevent traffic bottlenecks in no-through routes and private entry points, and warn people about risks that might not be obvious, such as a steep drop or deep water.

Local councils largely welcome high-quality signage as part of the normal landscape, making it easier for people to access businesses or premises or understand where to park. The primary circumstances where planning rules apply are less relevant to general signage and more applicable to areas with regulations to protect the style, ambience, or heritage of the area.

Examples of Signage Planning Permission Issues

A dispute between a local authority and a hotel owner occurred in Cumbria, where a sign was subject to planning permission due to its extended size, in-built lighting, and the nature of the building, a former orphanage and manor house. Given its scale and position overlooking the road, the large-scale signage was considered visually intrusive and a potential distraction for drivers.

Another signage planning dispute in recent years occurred when a business displayed a sign advertising headstones directly opposite a cemetery in Northern Ireland. This signage was seen to be in poor taste and to be detrimental to the area.

If you intend to erect signage in an area of historical significance, with listed status, a conversation area, or another space subject to rigorous planning controls, you should contact the local authority to gain their view.

Provided signage is in keeping with the locale and uses sympathetic materials, colours, and lettering, it will normally be acceptable. Our heritage signage models are widely used in Victorian parks and nature reserves, coastal villages and village greens for this very reason. They offer convenience and information for visitors and residents while blending seamlessly with the ambience of the setting.

Interpretation Plan Feature Zoning

Maintenance Obligations for Signage Displays

While most signs will not need official planning consent, the owner or responsible party is expected to ensure that a sign – whether an advert, a welcome sign or a notice board – is kept in good condition. The typical requirements are for all signs to be:

  • Kept clean and safe; any storm damage that renders a sign unsafe, for example, must be addressed.
  • Erected with the landowner’s permission – in most cases, this is a given, but some signage may need consent from National Highways if it is installed on public land adjacent to a road.
  • Designed not to pose an obstruction or issue for road users or any other nearby transport networks, including railway lines.

As a signage specialist, Fitzpatrick Woolmer crafts bespoke, durable and exceptional quality signage that is designed to last, using materials ranging from stainless steel and hardwood timbers to recycled plastics with a timber effect finish for sites with a focus on sustainability.

Working with a skilled signage consultant on your initial designs through to installation provides the assurance that your signs will remain in superb condition for years to come, with the proper anchoring, foundations and fixtures to ensure signage will not become damaged or unstable.

We can also recommend additional features such as vented display panels for notice boards and anti-graffiti finishes with anti-tamper locks. These added touches prevent signs from becoming deliberately damaged and avoid natural wear and tear due to condensation or moisture ingress.

Local Planning Regulations for Outdoor Signage Displays

As always, it is well worth speaking to your local planning department or getting in touch with the Fitzpatrick Woolmer team if you have any concerns about planning permission or are unsure whether your intended signage may require formal consent.

In the rare scenarios where planning permission is required, we can assist with material selection and signage design to satisfy the local planning office’s requirements, creating signage that fully complies with their expectations.

You are welcome to contact us to arrange a good time to discuss your planned outdoor signage. Alternatively, please browse our range of signage models online to see how modern, durable materials can be used to craft heritage-feel signage for protected areas and sites of historical importance.

Mark Woolmer

Mark Woolmer

With a strong background in art and design, Mark is passionate about the capacity for excellent design as a communication tool, leading the Fitzpatrick Woolmer company and focusing on strategy, business development and continual improvement.

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