Bristol City Council fails to prevent a marked increase in commercial ‘visual clutter’ on our streets

Bristol City Council has allowed a proliferation of brightly lit commercial advertisements throughout the city center, failing to stand up to central government and advertisers in defense of our city’s unique culture.

Applications were made by New World Payphones in October 2016 to convert three public telephone kiosks in Bristol, adding LED screens to show adverts. They were refused, in one instance for “inappropriate and unnecessary visual clutter and low-quality commercial branding” to the conservation area it was sited within.

New World Payphones appealed to central government’s National Planning Inspectorate, who overturned the council’s decision, and in April 2017 they were granted permission for all three, saying (in the same case as above) that they “would contribute to the diverse commercial character of the locality.” The locality they are referring to is the Bishopston section of Gloucester Road, known for the profusion of independent and local shops. Surely only a government focused more on international business than local economies could think that adverts from multinational corporations would add anything to such an area. The overriding permission from the National Planning Inspectorate  included restrictions which meant animated advertisements were forbidden, so as not to distract drivers and cyclists, who pass within feet of it, but in June 2017 they re-applied for what appears to be exactly the same plan, and it was granted, but this time with no restrictions on the content.

When 10 similar applications were made by Infocus Public Networks Ltd later in 2017, to replace telephone kiosks which had paper adverts with new versions which include the large illuminated screens, they were all approved in November 2017, with the same restrictions on moving images. When questioned, council officers said that they “are not able to resist the applications,” given that the three applications appealed at the start of the year were allowed. (It is worth noting that the 10 applications from November 2017 were from a company called Infocus Public Networks,  with a very minimal website. The website advertised on the kiosks themselves is is much flashier, and doesn’t mention that the “poster sites” are payphone kiosks, and charge £2,600 for advertising on one of these sites for 2 weeks.)

In Focus phonesdisabled+kiosk

Above: In Focus telephone boxes

During September 2017,  eighteen applications were made by JCDecaux to erect brand new, free standing advertising screens all through and around Broadmead in central Bristol (see below), most of which were approved by Bristol City Council, despite objections from local residents and community groups.

Proposed Location 1

Adblock Bristol asked Mayor Marvin Rees the following question in December 2017:

“Will the Council consider strengthening its own hand in such decisions by including a preference against new (and newly digitised) outdoor advertising displays in its revised Local Plan?”

The Mayor’s reply:

“I believe that our current policies are robust enough for us to properly assess these applications and to defend our decisions at any appeals.”

Central government’s tendency to treat every shopping area the same contributes to the growing homogenisation of our cities, where city centers are more and more difficult to tell apart, full of the same chain shops, in the same architecture, fed by the same ubiquitous and intrusive advertising. We like to think that Bristol could forge its own way, making our own decisions, and reflecting our own vibrant and unique culture, and it would be all the easier if the council were on side.

Benoit Bennett, Adblock Bristol

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