A DALES tourist town has launched a huge fundraising drive for a signpost to tempt motorists off the A1.

A campaign to get Masham signposted off the motorway has been fought ever since the town's brown tourism signs were removed during the major upgrade of the road.

Businesses and residents responded by creating their own giant direction sign in a field to try and lessen the impact of the loss.

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Many local firms said they have noticed a 30 per cent decline in business since the removal of the official brown sign.

They also fear many people unfamiliar with the area are sailing past the new junction, as people's Satnavs are out-of-date.

On one day in Masham recently - when three weddings were held in the area - more than 100 guests were said to have missed the junction.

Harrogate Borough Council ordered the temporary sign's removal last year, saying it did not have permission and was illegal.

The council is currently running an amnesty on planning permission needed for signs, campsites and display advertising, in a bid to encourage pop-up campsites and help businesses cater for the huge amount of visitors expected for the Tour de France - and the DIY Masham sign has temporarily returned.

Masham town councillor Flo Grainger, who runs a campsite in the town and helps organise Masham Steam Rally, said: "We have done this as a temporary measure and to highlight the beginning of a fund-raising campaign to try to raise the £36,000 required by the Highways Agency for two brown signs for Masham and the Dales."

She said campaigners were faced with mountains of red tape in their bid to get a Masham direction sign, including a clause in their agreement with the Highways Agency, which includes meeting the cost of any damage caused to fibre optic cable running beneath the verge.

"The real sting in the tale comes with a clause in an agreement which needs signing in an effort to progress the scheme," she said.

"There is a contingency fee of an estimated £4,500 but we were told that if a fibre optic cable running under the verge was damaged we would have to pay the costs which could amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

"No one can therefore sign such a contract, especially our parish council, which could risk bankruptcy."

She said in a bid to overcome this barrier, they had offered cap the contingency fee at £8,500, meaning they need to raise nearer £40,000.

Anyone wishing to donate or help with fundraising can visit the website; http://www.visitmasham.com/masham-sign-petition/ or donate at Masham Community Office.