'Poor road signs are costing my business thousands of pounds'

John and Elaine Parkinson
John and Elaine Parkinson

THE owner of an award-winning cafe gallery and puppet theatre says inadequate road closure signs have had a devastating effect on his business.

Cumbria County Council is overseeing work to resurface a stretch of main road at Sebergham, near Hutton in the Forest, but traffic signs at either side of the B5305 are deterring visitors who want to visit Upfront Gallery, says owner John Parkinson.

He said that over the last three weeks while the work has been going on, Upfront Gallery has lost at least £5,000 in custom as a result.

Mr Parkinson has become so frustrated by what he says is a failure of the county council to improve the signs that he has written his own version of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, comparing his business to a stranded heroine.

To the east along the B5305, signs on the northbound M6 tell drivers that the B road is closed and there are diversions via Junction 44 at Carlisle.

Two signs on the motorway's Junction 41 roundabout tell drivers the road is closed at Sebergham, but only one of these includes a supplementary notice stating that businesses are “open as usual”.

Three or four miles along the B5035, near Hutton-in-the-Forrest, motorists are confronted by yet another sign, boldly stating “Road closed”, with the name Sebergham added, along with a diversion arrow pointing to a back road towards Carlisle.

Yet another sign, three minutes drive along the B5305 and near to the turn-off for Upfront Gallery, another sign says the road is closed at Sebregham, with a supplementary notice saying businesses are open.

“It would be a miracle if anybody gets that far,” said Mr Parkinson.

At the western side of the B5305 near Wigton, motorists are directed through a series of diversions north via Carlisle and the M6, involving a trek of more than 50 miles ultimately leading to Penrith via Junction 40.

From there motorists are sent through the town - and left to their own devices over how to find the Upfront Gallery, said Mr Parkinson.

He said that every day he now gets calls from frustrated and angry would-be visitors who have been left utterly confused by the signs. Some have become so fed up that they abandoned their planned visit.

A better diversion plan and more efficient signage – telling visitors his business is still accessible – would solve the problem, said Mr Parkinson.

“I appreciate they need to upgrade the road at Sebergham, but it's obvious that the signage and diversion planning for this work just hasn't worked.

"It's the duty of the council to carry out this work with due diligence. But they haven't.

“Their road closed signs on the Penrith side assume visitors know where Sebergham is.

“They also assume they'll know where Upfront Gallery is in relation to Sebergham, but a lot of my customers are tourists.

“If you don't know we're before Sebergham you won't know that there's still access. Sebergham is at least seven or eight miles past Upfront Gallery.

“From the other direction, at Wigton, the diversion is huge, and brings you back to the Penrith side. If they travel back up the motorway they wound find the signs saying that the B5305 is closed.”

Case law means any trade loss from a road closure or detour can not be claimed for.

“That would be fine so long as a planned detour is in place,” said Mr Parkinson. “If it's impossible to get to a business because of inadequate pre-planning or signage then the council are not giving due regard to the consequences of their action.”

He said the diversions were so huge because council officials were barred from sending motorists along more minor back roads, creating an unnecessarily huge and confusing diversion.

Recalling earlier roadworks which he said left his business stranded, Mr Parkinson added: “All the roads to us in every direction were closed down. And without a clearly signed access plan, a funeral party gave up trying to access us and most of them went home without going to the funeral tea.

“I still haven't had an apology for that.”

Mr Parkinson has repeatedly complained, telling the council he should not have to spend so much time defending a tourist attraction visited by 25,000 visitors a year.

He has now written a satirical version of Sleeping Beauty, comparing Upfront Gallery to the story's heroine, so completely isolated behind an impenetrable hedge that nobody could get through to visit her.

The story tells how John Parkinson and his wife Elaine created the gallery, cafe and theatre, preferring this to building houses to make money.

Of Upfront, the story says: “It won awards for being Small Arts Centre of the Year and Tourist Experience of the Year for all of Cumbria... Then for some reason gremlins came along to mend the road that led to Upfront.

“The problem was that the gremlins kept completely closing the road so that, at times, no one could get in and no one could find the beautiful theatre. It became like the palace surrounded by a big hedge in Sleeping Beauty. No one could visit...”

A Cumbria County Council spokesman said: "The council makes every effort to keep disruption to a minimum, to put in place appropriate signage and to notify all local residents and businesses in advance of works commencing.

"These resurfacing works on the B5305 are scheduled to be completed on Friday 14 July, following which all advisory signage will be removed.”

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