THE blitz on traders' A-boards and pavement displays launched by County Hall and taken up with gusto by councils across East Lancashire, it now transpires, is a wrong-headed blunderbuss use of the law.

For rather than coming down with a heavy-handed blanket ban - one which has seen shops galore threatened with huge fines and confiscations - councils are told they should take a case-by-case approach.

So says government planning minister Nick Raynsford. He is quite right. And it is about time local authorities took heed.

For, thus far, they have been over-prescriptively applying the letter of a 17-year-old law - but with a strange suddenness that suggests that some faceless planning fanatic at Preston has managed to infect town hall busybodies across the county with his obsession - while ignoring its spirit.

Mr Raynsford now tells them what its spirit is. And it is quite opposite to the hounding approach they have employed.

No-one disputes the law's intent - basically that of making pavements safer for blind. But its over-zealous application is threatening the jobs and livelihoods. This is particularly so in smaller businesses which depend heavily on A-board advertising and shop-front displays to attract custom and have done so for generations with no harm to those this law is mean to protect.

Indeed, this newspaper - an admitted interested party since it and newsagents depend heavily on these signs for publicity and casual sales - in all its decades of experience cannot recall a single instance of a person falling over one of these signs.

And, of course, this council witch-hunt against them is particularly maddening when the town halls themselves are responsible for so much pavement clutter - not least the rash of iron bollards that councils have put down all over the place as deliberate obstructions.

Yet even if it is hard to apply common sense to such anomalies, surely it can be applied to the use of the law - in the way that Mr Raynsford suggests and expects. Then, hopefully, these council maniacs will discover that there are better things to do than keep bees in their bonnets.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.