A SIGN telling people Witney is a Fairtrade town has been taken down after volunteers were told it breached planning laws.

The Welch Way sign will now not be replaced because West Oxfordshire District Council would charge £385 administration costs.

Witney was the 1,000th place in the world to bear the status, meaning firms stock products which give a ‘fair’ deal to Third World producers.

Witney Area Fairtrade Action Group put the ‘Witney Fairtrade Town’ sign on the Congregational Church in August.

But members then got a letter from the council saying it would need consent under advertising regulations.

It was removed this month, a day after the letter was received.

The town was granted the status in 2011 after a three-year campaign and the sign was the only indication of the status in Witney.

Fairtrade group member Don Mason said he understood the council acted after a member of the public complained. The council was unable to confirm this as we went to press.

He said: “A lot of people have welcomed this sign and it is just because of one sad person that we have had to take this down.

“The church was very supportive of it.” Mahalla Mason, his wife, added: “We checked everything on the council’s website before we put this up and didn’t think that we broke any planning rules.

“The building isn’t listed, as it is only about ten years old.”

The group was told the sign was “advertising” and is not related to the building to which it is fixed.

Group member Wendy Maddison said: “We would need £385 to apply for formal planning permission which we, as a group, do not have.

“And even if we did there is no guarantee we would get it.”

Council spokeswoman Carys Davies said: “It appears that this sign requires the council’s consent under Advertisement Regulations for which there is a prescribed fee.

“However, we are looking further into the matter and will advise the relevant parties of the outcome.”

To gain Fairtrade status, a town must get the support of local groups, the council and press, form an action group and get businesses to stock Fairtrade products.

Oxford, Bicester, Banbury, Abingdon-on-Thames, Faringdon, Grove, Henley-on-Thames, Kennington, and Shrivenham and Watchfield also have Fairtrade status.