Monday, 19 March 2012

Flying the flag – but not the ‘Skull and Crossbones’

If you follow the press closely you may have picked up on a couple of stories in recent weeks where local planning authorities were threatening to make the fliers of pirate flags ‘walk the plank’ in terms of planning enforcement.

In one case, East Lindsey District Council threatened a prosecution for the illegal display of an advertisement (viz: the flying of a pirate flag) in the garden of a house in their area. Needless to say the parents of the child whose flag it was were somewhat surprised to receive this pompous letter, which claimed that they needed advertisement control consent to display the skull and crossbones flag. The letter demanded that the offenders remove the flag and its pole within 28 days, and reminded them that it is an offence, prosecutable in the magistrate's court, to display an advert without consent from the council.

On being questioned about the letter, the council solemnly announced that it was lawful to fly a national flag (of any nation), but not the skull and crossbones. A pompous idiot, speaking on behalf of the Council is reported to have said: "As such, and in line with planning law, the district council has written to the family concerned asking that it is taken down. Rules around what flags are acceptable are contained within planning legislation and we'd be happy to provide advice and guidance on what is acceptable."

However, it was East Lindsey Council who eventually waved the white flag, when they realised what asses they had made of themselves by their officious action in demanding that the flag be taken down.

Meanwhile, not so far away, near Hull, a similar spat occurred over another pirate flag in a children’s play area in a local pub. This time, the over-zealous planning authority was East Riding Council, whose enforcement officer marched round to the pub and told the landlord that he could be taken to court if he did not remove the flag. The excuse was that there had been a ‘complaint’ and the council was ‘just following the rules’. (The enforcement officer was “just doing my job”.) Needless to say, the landlord was somewhat puzzled as to who might have complained about a pirate flag being flown in the children’s play area.

Like East Lindsey, the East Riding Council eventually backed down in the face of local ridicule, mumbling that they had a duty to investigate after a complaint was received. So the good citizens of Humberside and surrounding areas can now fly their pirate flags, safe in the knowledge that they will no longer be troubled by silly over-zealous planning authorities, who haven’t got the common-sense to realise that they are making fools of themselves.

Just for the record, it is very unlikely that any prosecution would have succeeded in these two cases, as it is unlikely (in light of previous judicial authority on the subject) that the courts would have accepted that these particular flags amounted to advertisements. A flag would only be regarded as an advertisement if it draws attention to the premises. This would certainly never apply to a private dwelling which is not being used for any commercial purpose. It is also very unlikely to occur in the case of a pub or similar premises where the flag is simply an adjunct of the children’s play area, and could not by any stretch of the imagination be seen as advertising the premises as such.

I wonder if there are any other planning authorities around the country who may be thinking of embarking on a crusade against the flying of pirate flags or other ‘unauthorised’ flags. Perhaps word may have got around about these two stupid local authorities in the East of England, and other councils may be deterred from pursuing a similar course of action.

And town planners wonder why they command such little respect!



  1. Given the definition of being for the purposes of 'advertisement, announcement or direction' the purpose of the Jolly roger was to announce unless you surrounded you would all be slaughtered cause we're pirates and we're robbing ye - avast me hearties.

    Seriously though the separation of 'advertisement' from 'announcement' shows that whether or not its for commercial purposes is not material - such as a 'Dad is 50' banner splayed in front of a house for 5 years.

  2. I see Andrew’s point about flags that make an ‘announcement’, but I still don’t think either of these pirate flags would come into that category, unless either of them was likely in itself to draw attention to the premises. If the flag is flown purely in a children’s play area, or in the garden of a private house purely for play purposes, then this is unlikely to be the case.