AN estate agent has been criticised for installing two “unsightly” signs on a historic Henley building.
Sotheby’s International has applied for retrospective planning permission for the signs at Speaker’s House in Hart Street, which it rents.
The Grade II listed property is where William Lenthall, speaker of the House of Commons, lived intermittently during the Civil War period, and is in a conservation area.
The signs are blue with white lettering. One is a projecting sign and hangs 1m from the building while the other is a timber panel sign in painted blue lacquer.
Oliver Symons, who lives in the flat above the business and is a sales negotiator with Hart Street estate agents Ballards, wrote to South Oxfordshire District Council to oppose the application on the grounds that the signs detract from the nature of the building.
He said: “The historical significance, along with the attractive and unspoiled presence of a timber-framed Grade II listed building, results in many townsfolk and visitors specifically wanting to see and photograph the building, which is obviously affected by such prominent exterior signage.
“I appreciate businesses need to advertise and on this occasion feel that the extensive illuminated ‘in-window’ advertising is clear and prominent enough to promote the business without the addition of unsightly signage detracting from a wonderful listed building.”
The Henley Society, a heritage group, recommends using the fascia sign rather than the vertical panel and a “less strident” colour.
In a response to the application, a South Oxfordshire District Council conservation officer said: “The proposed board sign is of appropriate materials and is designed sympathetically to the style and appearance of the building. While not a conventional fascia sign, it is not obtrusive and retains the character of the building.
“The hanging sign is folded aluminium, powder-coated. While this is not timber, as recommended in the South Oxfordshire traditional shopfront design guide, I do not consider that this has any detrimental impact upon the character or appearance of the surrounding conservation area, nor does it detract from the special interest of the listed building.”
Speaking at a meeting of Henley Town Council’s planning committee, Councillor Lorraine Hillier said: “What they have put up would be appropriate if you were doing an exhibition stand but I think in our town it is awful.
“I don’t so much mind the hanging sign but they both come as a package and it is the vertical one which I really object to strongly.” Councillor Martin Akehurst said: “Had this not been one of the oldest houses in Henley, I might have granted it a bit of leeway but I really do not think that this is appropriate.”
Councillor Sam Evans added: “It is a strident colour and quite in keeping, it is just the sheer size of the thing.”
Tim Shears, of Sotheby’s International, said: “We have always tried to conform with everything that is in the town and I think our colour is far from strident — it is a really dark blue.
“One thing we do not want to do is have one of those A-frame signs outside as I think that is a hazard and looks tacky and we refrain from that kind of thing.
“I think we have a very mature signage and encourage people to come down and make a comment about what they think.
“We have many people loving the fact that we are here and the sign looks pretty good at night too.”
Mr Symons said: “I object to the planning application purely on the basis that I am a resident.
“My personal opinion as a resident is that it is fairly prominent signage which detracts from the Grade II listed building.
“I have no problem with something that is a bit more subtle but I feel that what is proposed is too prominent.”
lLenthall, who was born in Henley, served as speaker from 1640 to 1659 and was a signatory to the warrant for the execution of Charles I in 1649.