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Use local elections to get advertising on the political agenda

With local elections coming up on 4th May 2023, we have the perfect opportunity to get advertising and its harms on the political agenda.

Find out if there is a local election happening near you here. You can then contact your local political parties to get the contact details of all the candidates for the election – or search for their details on The Democracy Club.

You can email local candidates, especially those in your council ward who will want to hear directly from the residents in their area, using this template email with two main policy recommendations:

1. If elected, will you support the introduction of an ‘ethical advertising policy’ on Council-controlled sites (e.g bus stops)? This would restrict advertising that harms public health and increases emissions, such as ads for junk food, gambling, alcohol and environmentally-damaging products. Other local authorities have recently enacted similar policies.

2. Will you support a moratorium on new digital advertising billboards in your town/city? This could be in place until outdated national planning policy is reformed to allow councils to consider the specific impacts of digital billboards on local communities in planning decisions, such as climate, biodiversity and public health.

Are you on social media? Why not also try tweeting candidates to ask what their position is on advertising? This is a great way to show that you care about the negative presence of billboards, bus stop adverts and other outdoor advertising in our communities. 

Policy Recommendation 1:

Ask your council to create an ‘Ethical Advertising Policy’ to govern the content of advertising sites within its control (e.g. bus stops).

Councils have commercial contracts (known as Advertising Concession Agreements) with outdoor  advertising companies such as Clear Channel UK or JCDecaux. It is possible for councils to limit the most harmful forms of advertising on these sites. We recommend councils exclude advertising for the following products on these sites: 

The Greater London Authority, Transport for London, and Bristol City Council have all implemented similar policies in recent years with Norwich, Liverpool and North Somerset councils also passing motions for similar bans.

City-wide bans have also been placed on advertising for high carbon products in Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague.

Policy Recommendation 2:

Adopt a moratorium on new digital advertising billboards.

Councils (“planning authorities”) determine planning applications for new digital advertising screens. A council could adopt a moratorium on all new advertising screens, effectively preventing new ones being installed. This would send a message to advertising companies wishing to build new screens that the local authority is not supportive. 

Currently, planning regulations only allow councils to consider such an application on two grounds: public safety and ‘amenity’. This does not take into account the multiple unique impacts of digital advertising screens including on light pollution, energy use and climate, biodiversity, health and wellbeing. And it does not allow councils to make decisions on these applications in line with current priorities.

A moratorium would be a temporary prohibition on granting new applications and could be in place until outdated national planning policy is reformed to allow councils to consider the specific impacts of digital billboards on local communities in planning decisions. 

The alternative approach is for residents to spot and respond to planning applications one at a time. This firefighting strategy, on an application-by-application basis, is powerful but advertising firms can use their financial power and salaried staff to outpace residents who volunteer their time to object to applications.

We need change at a local and national policy level. Help us win the changes we need!

Light pollution shining onto roads and properties from a digital billboard in Bristol. One digital billboard this size uses the same electricity per year as 11 UK homes.

Advertising, especially for the most highly carbon-intense goods and services, was responsible for 208 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2022; adding 32% of the emissions of every single person in the UK.

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