Digital advertising: why we should be opposed to digital billboards in Bristol

Above: Digital billboard outside Liverpool Lime St Station (note double-decker bus for scale)

Stephen Clarke, councillor for Southville and co-founder of the Bristol Pound, explains why we should be opposed to digital billboards in Bristol.

What is the issue with digital advertising hoardings?

These are effectively very large computer screens (the one currently proposed at 14 Mina Rd, St Werburgh’s, and going to planning appeal is 7.5m high and 5m wide).They are a bad idea because:

  1. They distract drivers. This is of course what they are supposed to do in order to sell goods but, as they are sited on major roads (especially motorways), this distraction can easily lead to accidents. A study in Sweden found that they distract a driver for up to two seconds. At 70 mph this is a long time to travel. They have subsequently been banned by Sweden.
  2. They are visual pollution (‘sky trash’) in public areas where no consent has been obtained from the public.
  3. They are very carbon intensive. The large ones contain up to 10,000 LED bulbs and use the same power (for 24/7) as up to 30 residential houses.
  4. There is a social justice issue. They are often found in more deprived areas of urban environments.

For these reasons and others, many communities have banned them. A long list of these (up to 1400 worldwide at the last count) includes Auckland, Bergen, Hawaii and 700 other communities in the USA.

The main reason they are being introduced is financial; I understand that the very large on outside Liverpool Station (see photo) generates income of £300k per year.

The position in Bristol

In Bristol there have been 19 applications that I know about. 12 have been refused, 5 approved, and 2 have gone to appeal. One of these appeals (above a mosque at Stapleton Rd) has been refused and this site concerns the other one.

The site at 14 Mina Rd

This site has previously had a 48 sheet advertising hoarding removed in the late 90s because it was unauthorised (this decision was appealed and lost in 1998).

The current appeal arises out of a rejection of an application by BCC in Jan 2017. The application was for a ‘internally illuminated digital display’ measuring 7.5m x 5m above the IT Centre at 14 Mina Rd. Note that although the application is for the display of a series of ‘static images’ I would imagine that the hardware would be enabled for streaming video at a later date.

It would be visible from the main carriageway of the M32 and from the slip road at Junction 3.

There were 64 objections to the original application (incl one of the local labour councillors). BCC rejected the application for the following reasons:

  1. harm to local amenity of the area,
  2. impact on driver safety on the M32 and the slip road. The officer report said that it would be a ‘distraction’ in an area where queues are common. It is especially dangerous because it is not within the normal ‘cone of vision’ of many drivers heading into Bristol on the M32. In other words they would have to look across several lanes of traffic to see it.[1]
  3. Urban Design team said that it was ‘visually incongruous’ to townscape, was of poor design and would dominate views.

Cllr. Stephen Clarke

June 2017

[1] Note that in the Stapleton Rd mosque application the sign nearest the flow of traffic-heading into town-was approved but the sign that people had to look across lanes of traffic to see was rejected.

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