COUNCIL chiefs have been forced to make an embarrassing U-turn over the use of advertising A-boards on public pavements.

The authority is now poised to ban A-boards across the district on safety grounds, after a scrutiny committee took the rare step of forcing a re-think on their earlier plan to introduce a licensing system.

Disability groups, who have long campaigned against pavement obstructions, said the latest twist in the saga was a welcome surprise.

Paul Robinson, chairman of the Holme Wood Visually Impaired Persons group, said he would have to call off the protest he had planned for Tuesday's full council meeting - but said he wouldn't take anything for granted until after councillors had voted through the ban.

He said: "I thought this meeting on Tuesday would be them rubber-stamping the licensing idea. I'm so thrilled they have reconsidered. It was such a stupid decision."

And Emmerson Walgrove, chairman of the Bradford District Disabled People's Forum, said: "We are extremely delighted that the proposal is to ban all A-boards across the district."

He said they now wanted to make sure the ban would be properly policed.

But traders have reacted with disappointment.

Helen Rhodes, who chairs Ilkley Business Forum, said A-boards helped to attract customers into shops and a ban would hit trade.

She said: "There's quite a high turnover of businesses on Ilkley high street. There's quite a few people hanging on by the skin of their teeth so it will be interesting to see what happens."

Bradford Council's health and social care overview and scrutiny committee had asked the Executive to ban A-boards in all urban centres in the district, after spending more than a year studying the issue and hearing from all sides.

But in March the Labour-run Executive decided instead to ask shopkeepers in certain areas to pay an A-board licence fee - a move which caused a major rift within the Council's Labour group.

Two councillors, Labour's Jo Sharp (Wibsey) and Conservative Dale Smith (Wharfedale) put in official objections, and the Labour-chaired scrutiny committee took the extremely rare move of cancelling the Executive's decision and asking the full council to decide on the matter instead.

It is understood that Council leaders have now been forced to make a U-turn to avoid a humiliating defeat when the matter was put to the vote at the full council meeting.

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, portfolio holder for planning, who had proposed the original licensing scheme, said: "After much deliberation we decided that on balance a ban had the benefit of simplicity and avoided having multiple policies in place for different areas of the district.

"The Labour Group feels it’s important for everyone to be able to enjoy free access to public highways wherever possible. The impact of the ban will be assessed in 12 months’ time.

"But of course we'll continue to work with businesses to identify different ways of advertising that doesn't cause a highway obstruction.”

The chairman of the scrutiny committee, Councillor Vanda Greenwood (Lab, Windhill and Wrose), yesterday welcomed the leadership's change-of-heart, saying: "The scrutiny committee strongly welcomes the ban as a straightforward approach to improve accessibility and we will welcome the opportunity to look at it again in a year’s time to review the impact for everyone concerned."

Councillor Simon Cooke, leader of the opposition Conservative group, said it was the first time he could remember a scrutiny committee forcing the full council to reconsider an Executive decision since the introduction of the scrutiny system in 2000.

He said it was an example of the scrutiny process working, but said he didn't yet know how his group would be voting on the matter as Tory councillors had a range of views.