CONTROVERSIAL charges for street furniture are set to be dropped after a statement from Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet described them as the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

The charges were part of plans to control street furniture to reduce dangers to visually impaired people, after a group representing the blind and visually impaired hit out at the problems encountered while walking up the town’s main shopping streets.

One-off £50 charges for A-boards were introduced in 2016, but were suspended in February 2017 after backlash from traders who were also facing large increases in their business rates.

A one-off charge of £125, with an annual charge of £120 for businesses with an outside area of 0 to six square metres, £240 for six to 12sqm and £360 for 12 to 18sqm was originally proposed, with a decision made in January of this year for these charges to be halved.

Monmouth’s Church Street had been hit particularly hard by the charges, with an online petition signed by more than 3,300 people to ‘help save Church Street and Monmouth’s charm’. A peaceful protest was also held in the street recently, with traders and members of the community dressing in black to ‘celebrate the life’ of the street before the charges were implemented.

The issue surrounding A-boards and street furniture was seen as another blow after businesses in Monmouthshire were hit by prospective increases in their business rates following changes in the way the Valuation Office Authority works out rateable values.

A statement from MCC’s Cabinet read: “Following representations made by county councillors representing Monmouth; Cllrs Mat Feakins, Laura Jones, Richard Roden and Jamie Treharne, members of MCC’s cabinet are minded to reverse the proposed charges for placing display materials, and other street furniture outside their premises in town centres.

“Whilst the charges were only intended to cover the costs of managing the policy, the Conservative Cabinet members accepted the view of their colleagues that in these very difficult times for our town centres, even these modest charges might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. We will consider the issue again at the next available cabinet meeting along with any comments that may come from councillor members of our scrutiny committees.”

Cllr Bryan Jones, cabinet member responsible for highways commented: “We want to encourage vibrant town centres and traders using the space outside their premises helps to do that, but we also have to take heed of the views of groups representing those with physical disabilities that in some instances these objects on the pavements can be a danger. So the policy giving the council control over street furniture will go ahead but we will ask officers to find other ways to meet the costs.”

Cllr Bob Greenland, cabinet member with responsibility for enterprise and deputy leader of MCC added: “As we know from the news, town centre retailers throughout the UK are struggling. For those in Monmouthshire their position has been made much worse because of a recent revaluation of business rateable values imposed by the Labour government in Wales. It seems extraordinary but it is true that Cardiff has seen an overall reduction in rates whilst Monmouthshire has seen increases, some astronomic. We asked that these revaluations should be dropped, but this fell on deaf ears. We continue to press the case of our beleaguered retailers to ministers in Cardiff Bay.”