Relief as new digital ad screen at busy Bristol junction is refused at appeal

“The large electronic form with LED technology and changing images, would be substantially more distracting than the existing numerous print-based advertisements.”

More than 230 Bristol residents who objected to a proposed digital screen on Bedminster Down Road were relieved to hear that the ad company’s appeal was dismissed last week.

The giant screen, which had been refused by Bristol City Council earlier this year on the grounds of road safety and visual amenity, threatened local residents again in May when London-based advertising company JCDecaux appealed the decision. 

Fortunately for all those that objected, JCDecaux’s appeal was firmly dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate last week. The decision quoted severe concerns over the distracting qualities of digital screens for drivers and pedestrians at the busy junction, which has sustained 17 traffic incidents including one fatal collision in recent years[1]: “The large electronic form with LED technology and changing images, would be substantially more distracting than the existing numerous print-based advertisements.”

The proposed screen, which residents described as “dangerous” and “a complete eyesore”, would replace four existing paper billboards, a process described by JCDecaux as ‘rationalisation’. Although JCDecaux claimed that the new screen would result in a reduction in clutter at the site, a common argument by advertising companies pushing for digital screens for which they gain greater revenue than for paper billboards, the judgement disagreed:

“Whilst there would be a significant reduction in advertising at the appeal site the replacement panel would be distinctly different in terms of type from those it would replace and would be substantially higher. It would introduce a stridently commercial feature, close to residential properties, which would not be in keeping with the character of this mixed-use area where adverts are generally low key in style and type. It would harmfully alter the appearance of the prominent site and would be a highly visible and incongruously dominating feature which would not harmonise with the character of the area. This harm would not be sufficiently offset by the benefit of reducing the clutter of adverts at the appeal site.”

Image of the proposed screen from JCDecaux’s advertisement application, 2020

While public safety and amenity are currently the only factors taken into consideration for advertisement planning consent, residents’ concerns about the digital screen also included the effects of big brand advertising, including for junk food, on children walking to Parson Street Primary School nearby, the negative impact of light pollution on local residents and wildlife, and the high electricity consumption of digital screens.

A similar screen installed by the M32 in Easton in 2019 was met with shock by local residents, many of whom were unaware of the plan to construct a giant screen in their neighbourhood and have since expressed upset and anger about its negative impact on their quality of life, including mental health impacts[3]

Adblock Bristol are concerned that advertising companies are repeatedly ignoring the Council and the views of local people to put up digital screens, not just in Bristol but across the country. In a recent example, advertising company Global successfully won an appeal for a digital screen in Bristol’s Lawrence Hill in December 2020, despite initial planning refusal by the Council and objections from 34 Bristol residents. Together with the Adfree Cities Network, Adblock are calling for tougher planning regulations at a national level, since current legislation[4] for the control of advertising predates the existence of digital screens, as Nicola Round explained:

“The impact of digital screens on road safety, local economies, mental and physical health and the environment are clear. The control of planning consent for advertisements is currently subject to national regulations dating to 2007, and we’re calling for this to be updated as a matter of urgency given the threat that digital screens pose to communities in Bristol and across the country.

“We want space for healthier, happier cities without being pressured to buy a huge polluting SUV, or more junk food or the latest throwaway fast fashion. We don’t want a new digital screen and we want the existing billboards removed.”

[1] www.crashmap.co.uk

[2] Dukic et al. (2013) Effects of Electronic Billboards on Driver Distraction. Traffic Injury and Prevention, 14(5). DOI:10.1080/15389588.2012.731546

[3] New digital ad billboard on M32 is ‘brutal monolith’ say local people. www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/new-digital-ad-billboard-m32-2640882

[4] The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007. www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2007/783/contents/made

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