Kevin Buckle: Why smartphones are more dangerous than A-boards

The ban on A-boards is symptomatic of the way businesses are treated as an afterthought. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The ban on A-boards is symptomatic of the way businesses are treated as an afterthought. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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This week saw the banning of A-boards in Edinburgh, heralded by those in favour as a major step forward in keeping Edinburgh’s streets free of clutter.

There was little noticeable dissent on social media, though I did see a piece on the BBC’s website explaining the problems this will cause some businesses. This of course is because the businesses were too busy keeping their businesses afloat after one more blow.

A-boards will always help to draw attention to a shop, though some are far more dependent than others. There was a time when shops on the main street with good window space had a big advantage but these days as people spend so much time with their heads down looking at their phones it isn’t the bonus it used to be.

Those without so much display space could use a board to promote offers and hope to draw people in. However, and in Edinburgh this is a far bigger thing than in most cities, if a business was down a close it pretty much depended on a board to get custom. For other businesses the ban will affect their business. For these small businesses out of view it will destroy them.

READ MORE: 14 stores closing on UK’s high street every day as retailers feel pinch

There is no doubt that many of the city’s A-boards could be removed and the improvement in clearing pavements of clutter would outweigh the minor disadvantage the business faced. However there are also many instances where A-boards cause no problem at all and in fact are sometimes safer than the obstacles to which they are attached.

The Grassmarket is a good example where the bollards are lethal, constantly catching people out, and a sign in front actually helps. Given the massive disruption that the pedestrianisation originally caused for the traders who are still left from that time it can hardly be claimed now that the Grassmarket is short of space in which to walk.

The same thing happened with the removal of the two advertising drums from the Castle end which were outside my old shop. They caused no problems, blocked no views and worked very well promoting mainly local theatres but were removed because of a perceived issue.

At worst businesses should be able to apply for a licence as happens now with the tables and chairs seen outside cafes and restaurants and cases could be judged on their merits. Of course that would involve work and a blanket ban is so much easier but surely the premise should be that all are treated equally.

What is more, there are now bigger issues than A-boards blocking pavements and that is groups of visitors huddled around a phone trying to work out directions. That really is an issue now, as are the large tour groups, but small businesses are an easy pick so it seems. I regularly have to fight my way through a large crowd listening to a tour guide speak at the top of the Scotsman Steps but I don’t hear of plans to stop that.

I’m often asked if Edinburgh Council is anti-business and when you look at the make-up of the council the biggest problem is the complete lack of people with a business background. Using businesses as we all do is a far cry from being a business. They are not anti-business they simply don’t consider businesses.

There is also a feeling that businesses are there to make money and need to stand on their own two feet, but councils can’t come along and tie those two feet together and still expect them to survive.

What this ban on A-boards has done is highlight a bigger problem that is particularly relevant now and that is that businesses are an afterthought in what some seem to think is a bigger picture about a healthier, more vibrant city centre.

One business owner pointed out to me recently that maybe some lives were being improved and extended but many others were being made harder and probably shortened by “the annoying smugness of the healthy brigade”.

One thing that I think has been lost in all this is that it is actually good for people to get out and shop in the same way it is good for people for to get out and go to pubs and gigs and meet others. It is rare for a week to go by that somebody buying from me online doesn’t comment that they used to come in the shop and still remember enjoying chatting to staff.

Quite often it wouldn’t be about music but how exams had gone or the tribulations of having young children and sometimes it would be obvious folk were just feeling a bit down and glad for a chance to chat. There was of course the social side of things too with groups of youngsters out together shopping.

With wellbeing such an important consideration these days and mental health issues never having been greater, particularly among youngsters, maybe some thought should be given to encouraging kids to get out more.

Amazon and YouTube have replaced shops and gigs and I doubt anybody thinks that is a good thing. Oddly enough, the only people I’ve ever seen walk into an A-board are young folk so engrossed in their phones that they walk straight into one.

Let them eat great cake at City Art Centre

Lots of news this week from Edinburgh’s cultural venues. The Queen’s Hall announced its 40th anniversary programme. Far too much to even start to mention things but you can read all about it on their website.

The King’s Theatre gave out all the details of its transformation to be completed by 2023. There will, they say, be “a new street level café and bar, accessible directly from Leven Street, along with an exciting new roof top hospitality space, providing spectacular 360-degree views of the city”.

READ MORE: Campaign launched to help fund £25m revamp at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre

Meanwhile The Fruitmarket Gallery announced revised plans for their extension with the promise of live music, theatre and dance events returning to the site of the former Electric Circus. More details to come now they have appointed Reiach and Hall Architects.

In other news, over the road the City Art Centre announced new operators for their café in Mimi’s Bakery. Exciting times!

Dan’s band get a helping hand – twice over

Dan Willson and his band Withered Hand are playing two shows at the Voodoo Rooms in a couple of weeks’ time, with the first show being accompanied by a brass section and the second replacing the brass with strings.

As if that wasn’t enough, Dan is joined by Phil Taylor of PAWS on the first night and has Jamie Sutherland of Avalanche favourites Broken Records supporting on the second night. Clearly all a cunning ploy to get people to go twice!

Buying a ticket in advance is definitely advised.