TRADERS are furious after a council official ordered them to remove signs pointing customers to their businesses.

Bosses at the Cowdray Centre were threatened with heavy fines by Colchester Council staff who told them to take down advertising boards at the entrance to the complex.

Part of the centre was gutted by a blaze in July 2006 and has since been torn down.

Surviving companies say their signs on the fencing surrounding the demolished section are vital to let customers know they are still up and running.

But the council worker told them the boards would have to go as part of a drive to clean up the town.

Jim Parkinson, of Parkinson Motorcycles, said: “A bloke came into my reception, heavy-handed, threatening a £1,000 fine.

“There are ways of doing things and not doing things and I felt he was going about it all the wrong way.”

Geoff Boston, of MOT-a-Car, said: “The whole idea behind the signs was that after the fire, we had loads of calls from customers wanting to know if we were still here.

“This is a private road anyway, so I don’t think it is any of the council’s business what signs we have up.”

There is an officially-sanctioned signboard on the opposite side of the road.

But Kirsty Robinson, of MOT-a-Bike, said: “The signs on there are smaller, so they are hard to read, and they often get blocked by queues of traffic.”

Lande Fourie, of Colchester Karate Academy, added: “There’s not enough space on the board for all the businesses here, anyway.”

The traders said a council worker who visited had boasted he had taken down 300 signs around the town.

Peter Lewis, of drum store Sound Attak, which had to move to another unit at the centre after the fire, said: “If he wants to improve things, why doesn’t he go and do something about the town centre, which is a mess.”

Trevor Durrant, who had to set up his guitar store in a new unit when the old one was completely gutted by the fire, said: “Everyone here is affected.”

No one at Colchester Council was available for comment.

The authority, which has also recently cracked down on temporary banners hanging outside High Street shops, says it tries to liaise with businesses and make them aware of all the regulations covering advertising and promotion.