On Saturday 14th October 2020, volunteers from environmental group Adblock Birmingham (Brum) wrote to Birmingham City Council and submitted five proposals to be fed into the Birmingham Local Enforcement Plan (BLEP). This document outlines how the council will deal with breaches of planning control and enforcement issues in Birmingham, including advertising sites. Shockingly, at present planning enforcement is discretionary, not mandatory- which means that the council can choose whether or not to enforce its own rules.
Adblock Brum believes regulations on outdoor advertising are not robust enough and are not being effectively enforced. This outcome is having a detrimental effect on road safety and visual amenity in our city. We believe these proposals would enable both the Council and local residents to strengthen their control over issues with problematic and unauthorised advertisement sites. We also present a new revenue stream for the council to enforce such suggestions, by creating new jobs and alleviating pressure on the councils’ workload. We believe our proposals would ultimately benefit the city and residents, as it would enable the timely monitoring and removal of unwanted or dangerous advertising sites, thereby improving both road safety and the visual landscape.
Our proposals enable residents and local council to strengthen their control over issues with problematic and unauthorised advertisement sites. Further it creates new jobs, enabling people to monitor and remove unwanted or dangerous advertising sites; thereby improving road safety and the visual landscape.
Birmingham MP Steve McCabe said:
“It is important that local communities have a say in their environment and advertising agents and large companies don’t just get the green light to put up billboards as they see fit. I believe we need far better oversight and enforcement of planning laws in general. It can’t be right that billboards get automatic approval after 5 years and no one is checking when agents put them up illegally. These seem to be sensible suggestions which would help give local people more of a say over what is put up in their area and hold advertisers to account when they are breaching their obligations.”
Five Proposals and Review: Pitching our Ideas Forward
Proposal 1. To address the automatic issue of deemed consent when a ‘temporary approval’ application ends its pre-agreed term of express consent – of five years, concerning billboards and digital billboards.
Well, a lot can happen in 5 years such as the opening of a new school nearby to a billboard location. Therefore, planners would need to review and re-submit their planning applications of billboards regularly to ensure advertisements in areas are not exploiting or likely to inflict harm on young people.
Proposal 2. Spot checks should be carried out on the safety aspects of digital billboards in Birmingham, for example, illuminance levels and transition periods. Additionally, re-inspections for advertisements that are located at roadsides that may be in contravention of current safety laws.
Digital advertisements to be distracting and disorienting to drivers; with high levels of illuminance more likely to catch a driver’s attention than traditional static sites 1,3,5. A large digital advertisement on the left-hand side of the A38 Aston Expressway South is located at the point where the road changes from the motorway into city roads and the Queensway tunnel system. Its location is a crucial time where drivers must change their speed from 70 to 50 to 30mph. Worryingly, these drivers could be distracted for more than five seconds while travelling at 60km/h, thus leading to a car accident. Therefore, with the correct monitoring of light emitted from digital billboards, it can prevent road accidents.
Proposal 3. We feel there needs to be a better complaints procedure for reporting problematic advertisement sites that are in breach of their planning contract, or that warrant investigation for the council to consider discontinuance action.
1 in 3 billboards in Birmingham have half the paper torn off within a day of being installed and creates an untidy environment. Interestingly, reports have shown this can increase vandalism and crime, leading to insecurity amongst people4. Therefore, implementing a reporting system can encourage the public to report unsightly advertisements and enforce appointing a newly employed Environmental Enforcement Officer to investigate the authenticity of adverts.
Proposal 4. The council must publicise advertisement applications or make applications known to residents or businesses.
Likewise, to Proposal 3, members of the public must be able to contest an advertisement application if they wish, for reasons concerning the health and safety of the community.
Proposal 5. The need for an effective check system in place for identifying Illegal advertisement sites and enforcement of daily fines issued to the site owner AND the Advertising company.
The public would report suspected illegal advertisement sites and the data would be passed to newly appointed Environmental Enforcement Officers to investigate. If the site is indeed illegal the site owner and the advertiser will be issued a fine. Funds from the issue of fines could support the new roles of Environmental Enforcement Officer.
Adblock Brum is determined to change the current Local Planning in Birmingham for advertisements and submitting our proposals to the Birmingham City Council will not only lead to the council considering the health and safety of Birmingham residents but will also provide a voice for local people.
CTC, Associates, L. L. C., 2012. Effects of Outdoor Advertising Displays on Driver Safety. Preliminary Investigation requested by Caltrans Division of Design.
Decker, J.S., Stannard, S.J., McManus, B., Wittig, S.M., Sisiopiku, V.P. and Stavrinos, D., 2015. The impact of billboards on driver visual behaviour: A systematic literature review. Traffic injury prevention, 16(3), pp.234-239.
Herrstedt, L., Greibe, P., Andersson, P. and la Cour Lund, B., 2017. Do LED-advertising signs affect driver attention?. In 5th International Driver Distraction and Inattention (DDI) Conference, Paris, France.
Jordaan, F., 2001. Environmental impact of outdoor advertising. SATC 2001.
Roberts, P., Boddington, K. and Rodwell, L., 2013. Impact of roadside advertising on road safety (No. AP-R420/13).
Wallace, B., 2003, September. Driver distraction by advertising: genuine risk or urban myth?. In Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers-Municipal Engineer (Vol. 156, No. 3, pp. 185-190). Thomas Telford Ltd.
Wolch, P., (2008). Do Road Signs and Billboards Contribute to Vehicle Accidents? Ezine Articles [Online], Available from: www.EzineArticles.com [Accessed 5/15/2017].
Photo: A hard-hitting billboard from the #HelpBritainBreathe (www.helpbritainbreathe.org.uk) initiative in 2017, in Birmingham. Credit: Professional Images/@ProfImages