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How to Apply for a Brown Sign

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 21 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
How To Apply For A Brown Sign

Brown signs with white lettering and symbols are common along UK roads. They announce a tourist attraction or accommodation. Arrows on the signs point the way to the destination. A mileage number tells road users how much further they have to travel.

Tourist businesses benefit from brown signs. The signs are a form of advertising. They let road users know what tourist attractions are in the immediate area and where they are.


Strictly speaking, though, brown signs are not adverts. The relevant highway authority controls them using a clear set of regulations. Local planning authorities manage advertising hoardings and apply different rules.

Relevant Highway Authority

Anyone who wants a brown sign for a tourist business must contact the relevant highway authority. Each UK regional government has an agency that governs motorways and trunk roads:

  • Highways Agency (England)
  • Transport Scotland
  • Welsh Assembly Government
  • Northern Ireland Roads Service

Those who want a brown sign on a road other than motorways and trunk roads must contact the appropriate local government authority.


There are separate rules for installing brown signs within the area of the M25 London orbital route. Full details appear in the booklet Tourist Traffic Signs Inside the M25. This is available from the Department for Transport.


To qualify for a brown sign, a tourist destination must meet the definition contained in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002.

This definition states that a tourist destination is an attraction or facility that is:

  • Permanent
  • Used by visitors to an area
  • Has public opening hours that do not require prior booking

The reference to opening hours does not stop an attraction or facility taking prior bookings if it wishes. The point is that the attraction or facility must be open to casual callers.

Various tourist destinations fall within the definition. Examples are theme parks, zoos, theatres, concert venues, hotels, restaurants, camping parks and picnic sites.

Local Guidelines

Each highway authority has its own rules about brown signs. The rules have features in common, however. They limit the number of signs along a road, for example.

In the first instance, it’s wise to contact the highway authority for advice. This is also a chance to ask for an application form and any written guidelines.

The following are examples of guidelines for local roads:

  • The attraction or facility must open for a minimum period each year
  • The attraction or facility must have car parking and toilets
  • If the facility is a hotel, it must be accredited by the AA, RAC or National Quality Assurance Standard from VisitBritain

Motorway and Trunk Road Guidelines

Examples of guidelines for brown signs on motorways and trunk roads are:
  • The signs must be within two - three miles of the destination
  • There must be no more than two brown signs already at a road junction
  • The attraction must have a certain number of annual visitors (250,000 visitors, for example, if the attraction is close to a major urban area and the sign is to appear on a motorway)

Application Form

Each highway authority supplies a brown sign application form. An applicant must complete the form and enclose a fee.

An applicant is also responsible for the costs of brown signs. These include design, installation and maintenance.

Although an applicant pays for the brown signs, the signs are the property of the highway authority.

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