Bristol pushes back on digital advertising screens

Adblock Bristol press release: 12 June 2018

Public objections to new digital advertising plans in Bristol are showing the council that people don’t want these intrusive, unwelcome screens in the city’s public spaces. But campaigners say that despite the decisive show of public opinion and a lack of understanding about the harmful impacts of this technology, we may still see new digital advertising screens in our city soon.

The council received almost sixty objections against plans for a huge digital advertising screen on Stapleton Road in Easton. A new digital screen proposed opposite Temple Meads station has also proved a very unpopular idea with the public, and has been rejected by the council as it would be a distraction and safety risk at this busy junction, and it would dominate the view and detract from nearby listed buildings.

A huge digital advertising screen proposed for opposite Temple Meads station has been rejected by the council

Elsewhere, a huge digital billboard planned for Mina Road in St Werburghs, to overlook the M32, has been refused for a second time. The advertisers were undeterred by the strength of public feeling about the screen, which was initially rejected following over seventy objections from local residents, and then rejected again by the government’s Planning Inspectorate when it was brought to appeal. With apparent contempt for the views of the people who would actually have to live by the eyesore, an almost identical application was made last year, was again rejected by the council and again by the Planning Inspectorate.

Following dozens of public comments expressing alarm at plans to introduce twenty-five new Google-backed ‘InLink’ wifi units across Bristol, each with two digital advertising screens, data capture technology and surveillance capacity, planning officers at Bristol City Council have decisively rejected all twenty-five applications.

InLink unit in London

Nicola Round from campaigning group Adblock Bristol said: “We’re pleased that in many cases the council is listening to people’s concerns and standing up to the advertisers, who have no regard for public opinion and simply want to fill our public spaces with increasingly intrusive and unavoidable adverts for junk food, cars and cheap fashion.

“The ‘InLink’ units were swept through in London despite a lack of clarity around how the technology will be used and how it will affect citizens, but Bristol has recognised the multiple social and environmental problems associated with these units and is taking a stand.

“The advertisers are likely to appeal the council’s decision however, and they may even try to use different tactics to bypass the usual planning process, as is happening in Kingston. It seems they are trying a different approach after their setback in Bristol, and are hoping to get their unwanted units ushered through as essential telecommunications equipment, which is not subject to the same scrutiny. If they try this in Bristol, it will show once again that the advertisers really do have no regard for the wishes of the people who will actually have to live with these units, or the carefully considered decisions of the council, who have clearly stated why these units are not right for our city.”

However plans are still in progress for two enormous digital advertising screens in the city centre, one on the Temple Way central reservation, the other on Bond Street above the pedestrian walkway alongside Cabot Circus. Both applications have received dozens of objections from Bristolians and local groups who are concerned about issues including pedestrian safety, the potential impact on wildlife, and the additional stress and pressure of consumer messages, particularly on young people.

A huge digital advertising screen is being considered for Temple Way

Adblock Bristol is urging the council to reject these plans, and to put any new plans on hold until they have a much better understanding of the impacts of digital advertising, and what it means for Bristol.

“We are constantly exposed to commercial advertising which uses manipulative techniques to make us feel inadequate, unattractive or unsuccessful unless we buy that new fast car, fizzy drink or perfume,” said Round. “This undermines our mental health, our wellbeing and our environment. Rather than introducing yet more of this visual pollution, we want to see corporate advertising removed from our public spaces to create a happier, less stressed-out city free from the constant pressure to consume.”

Bristol is already showing how public space once reserved for corporate advertisements can instead can be used in a more positive way. Residents in St Werburghs have been enjoying a new artwork installed on a disused billboard as part of the ‘Burg Arts’ project. The piece by artist Alpha Wilson celebrates the local community and environment and offers a positive alternative to the corporate billboards in the area.

Artwork by Alpha Wilson for the Burg Arts project

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