COUNCILS can now use electronic road signs to display coronavirus advice after the Department for Transport (DfT) reversed its opposition.

It had refused BCP Council’s original request due to concerns the messages could distract drivers.

But the decision was challenged, prompting it to be reversed and “essential information” is now being displayed on signs across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

The idea was first put forward by councillor Judy Butt based on a similar initiative in California.

But when a formal proposal was made to the DfT, it said the signs were “not the place to provide public health-related information”. It also insisted it had had “no formal approach” from the council.

“We haven’t been asked to consider authorising any Covid-19 messages,” it said in an email. “I don’t think we would – variable message signs are not the place to provide public health-related information [and] advertising is not permitted on traffic signs.

“At present, I can’t see what those might be in the case of coronavirus so I’m not sure what message would be useful anyway.

“Putting up unnecessary messages risks driver inattention and distraction but it’s an evolving situation and if things change I’m sure we’ll be in touch.”

The position drew criticism from the council which then challenged the decision through the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

As a result, the DfT has now agreed that coronavirus guidance can now be displayed.

Council leader Vikki Slade said: “After our initial request was declined by the DfT, we approached the MHCLG to reaffirm the benefits of using electric road signs to communicate essential information about Covid-19 directly with our residents.

“It is reassuring to see that the DfT has now reconsidered their position and is allowing the signs to be used for this important purpose, not just in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole but in other local authority areas across the country.”

She said work had already started to change its signs to show new coronavirus guidance.