Just visible behind the street clutter is Grade I listed Bedford Square, the only surviving complete Georgian Square in Central London. The newest addition to the paraphernalia is the information board in the centre of the picture, which gives maps of the neighbourhood at different scales and estimates of the time it would take to walk to various points of interest. This was erected recently by Transport for London as part of its 'Legible London' programme - and without planning permission, as TfL claimed permitted development rights under which certain statutory bodies may undertake public works without the rigmarole of planning permission.
We're dubious about the permitted development point. This covers development undertaken by TfL in fulfilment of its duties as a statutory undertaker - and so would cover bus stops but not, we imagine, a sign such as this which has nothing to do with those duties, any more than a telecoms company would be covered if it wanted to set up a stall selling mobiles.
Moreover, we're not quite sure what purpose the sign serves. In 2010 almost everyone has immediate access to a hand-held electronic A-Z, together with copious other visitor information, via a few clicks on a mobile, and yet this is the very time TfL chooses to deface a conservation area with a lumbering great static A-Z. Never has this board been less needed than now. And the part of the sign taken up with telling people how long in minutes it takes to walk from Bedford Square to, say, Great Ormond Street is curiously pointless as the information will be misleading and inaccurate for the majority of people who read it.
Despite commendable efforts over the years by English Heritage and others, street clutter remains a cacophonous blight that prevents proper appreciation of historic buildings. Many of us have learnt to edit it out, but when it grows to the volume shown in this picture that becomes increasingly difficult.
Matthew Parris complains about street clutter...