The sky is not for sale: petition against skywriting adverts

When the Adfree Cities network came together to oppose corporate outdoor advertising, we thought that meant billboards and bus stop screens. Now we find ourselves defending the sky itself from a takeover by corporate advertising.

Skywriting had been illegal in the UK since the 1960s. But this Spring, while we were all distracted by coronavirus, the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps snuck through a change in the law which allows skywriting and skytyping in the UK, for the purposes of advertisement.

The government had run a consultation on the proposal for just two weeks. And despite a majority of respondents opposing the idea, the government went ahead and passed the legislation  anyway. 

The change in law effectively converts the sky itself into a giant advertising billboard, meaning we will not be able to escape the pressures of corporate advertising, even when spending time in nature.

So the Adfree Cities network has teamed up with the Cloud Appreciation Society on their campaign to stop skywriting adverts over Britain.

As Gavin Pretor-Pinney from the Cloud Appreciation Society says,

“We want to reverse this change in legislation. It is against the interests of the British people. At the Cloud Appreciation Society, we have always championed the value of the sky for people’s wellbeing.

For many living in Britain, the sky is the last wilderness within reach. This is especially the case in urban areas. It is the most evocative and dynamic of nature’s displays, and the ever-changing clouds serve a valuable natural backdrop to our lives. The sky should not become an advertising space. Looking up should be an escape from branding and political slogans. There is no public benefit in changing the law to turn the UK skies into an advertising billboard.

Hooters skywriting by Oliver Wales, CC BY-ND 2.0
Hooters skywriting by Oliver Wales, CC BY-ND 2.0

At the Cloud Appreciation Society, we have always championed the value of the sky for people’s wellbeing. For many living in Britain, the sky is the last wilderness within reach. This is especially the case in urban areas. It is the most evocative and dynamic of nature’s displays, and the ever-changing clouds serve a valuable natural backdrop to our lives. The sky should not become an advertising space. Looking up should be an escape from branding and political slogans. There is no public benefit in changing the law to turn the UK skies into an advertising billboard.”

Gavin continues,

“But that is exactly what Grant Shapps, UK Secretary of State for Transport, did on May 8th when he made it completely legal for any brand, any political party, any individual with a few thousand pounds to burn to daub advertising slogans in huge letters across the sky over Britain. The change in law enacted by the UK Department for Transport means our skies can now be being sold as ad spaces to the highest bidders. Brands can now hijack our attention above, whenever we look up, like they already do in cities in US and Australia, where advertising using skywriting is commonplace

‘It is an honour to have commissioned the first skytyping display in the UK’, boasted Grant Shapps on May 9th. We believe he has been lobbied by companies keen to open up a new advertising market in the UK, who claim that brands can now “own the sky… without the clutter of other advertising”. This change in legislation should not have been allowed to happen.

It was rushed through after an inadequate public consultation conducted in mid-March when the entire country was distracted by the news hysteria around Covid-19. The resulting change in legislation is a scandal, and it should not have happened when the country was distracted. We want this public consultation to be reopened so that the public can say that we do not want adverts across our skies.

During lockdown, more than ever, we’ve realised the immense value of the unadulterated beauty of the sky for people’s health and wellbeing. The ever-changing clouds are the one part of nature that comes to us. We all share the atmosphere. We live within the sky not beneath it. We feel the sky should be one space that is free of brands and political slogans.

WE BELIEVE that if this change in law had been given proper public scrutiny it would have been soundly rejected by the British public.

WE’RE DETERMINED to reverse this change in law because it has been done in the interest of business alone, and it is completely against the best interests of the public. The sky does not belong to the government, and it is not theirs to sell.

WE DEMAND the UK Department for Transport re-opens their ‘Skytyping and skywriting: consultation on legalisation’ because it was rushed through under cover of Covid-19.”

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