This page sets out what extra information about which policies are available to local authorities for addressing the harms caused by outdoor advertising. It is intended as a supplement to the material set out in these shorter Briefings for Candidates.

Briefing for Election Candidates nationwide
Briefing for Election Candidates in Bristol only

Firstly, we establish some definitions, using policies from Bristol City Council as an illustrative example.

Local authorities should create ‘advertising policies’ to govern the content of advertisements
Bristol City Council, for example, created an ‘Advertising & Sponsorship Policy’ in March 2021. This is a new document with guidance and principles regarding the content of adverts on Council-controlled advertising spaces (such as bus stops) and sponsorship deals. You can read Bristol’s policy here. In summary, it prohibits advertising for junk food, gambling, payday loans and alcohol as well as advertising in parks and green spaces. There is a further Guidance Note on High Fat, Sugar or Salt products. There are calls for high carbon products such as SUVs, airline flights and fossil fuel companies to be added to this list of exclusions. Liverpool Council have also passed a motion in January 2021 to review their advertising policy (see page 15 of these council minutes).

Local authorities also have ‘advertising concessions’ (contracts) with billboard companies to run bus stops
Bristol City Council, for example, has an Advertising Concession Agreement’ with Clear Channel UK. This is a commercial contract for Clear Channel to provide and maintain bus stop shelters with advertising spaces. The Council receives an annual rent from Clear Channel plus 10% of the advertising revenue. The contract is considered commercially confidential and so not available for public viewing.

Policy Recommendation 1:
Create an ‘Advertising Policy’ to govern the content of advertising sites within a council’s control (e.g bus stops)

Councils have commercial contracts (sometimes 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, Bristol City Council and Amsterdam municipality have all implemented similar policies in recent years. You can read Bristol’s policy here and their Guidance Note on High Fat, Sugar or Salt products. Liverpool Council also passed a motion in January 2021 to review their advertising policy with particular regard to environmentally damaging products (see page 15 of these council minutes).

A large new digital advertising screen in East Bristol

Policy Recommendation 2:
Adopt a planning policy of ‘No New Billboards’

Most planning applications for new outdoor advertising sites are for digital screens. These require a huge amount of energy to run. For example, one large advertising screen requires the same amount of electricity as 11 average UK homes. They are often very unpopular with local residents.

Planning authorities (councils) determine planning applications for new digital advertising screens. A council could adopt a presumption against planning applications for all new advertising screens. This would send a message to advertising companies wishing to build new screens that the local authority is not supportive. 

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 not sustainable and residents will struggle to keep up with the raft of applications being submitted. Advertising firms can use their financial power and salaried staff to outpace residents who volunteer their time to object to applications.

A digital screen at a public bus stop.

Policy Recommendation 3:
Make advertising companies donate 50% of their ad space to local projects

As stated above, local authorities will have commercial contracts with advertising firms regarding advertising spaces on Council-owned infrastructure, e.g. bus stops. These bus stop ad screens contribute to the dominance of commercial messages in our streets. Whilst we appreciate that local authorities receive some income from these advertising concessions, our public spaces could be used for much more than promoting a new mobile phone or Big Mac deal. Adfree Cities’ policy recommendation is that 50% of advertising space on existing bus stop advertising panels in public space should be available to civil society organisations and voluntary associations. The costs of this policy should be borne by the advertising companies themselves, not the local authority. We believe it is both affordable, desirable and progressive for a greater proportion of these advertising spaces to be made available for non-commercial and community purposes.

How much money is involved?
Advertising concession contracts are considered commercially confidential and so are not available for public viewing. However, the February 2021 agenda notes of a Bristol Council meeting provides some information. Bristol City Council receives a fixed rent of £480,000 per year from Clear Channel UK. The Council also receives 10% of advertising revenue that Clear Channel receives from companies paying to advertising on the bus stop sites (which can vary each year depending on market conditions). In 2020, this 10% amounted to £180,000 per year. This means that Clear Channel makes £1.8 million in revenue from selling advertising space in Bristol, of which the Council receives £660,000 (£480k + £180k).

Adfree Cities appreciate that many bus stop advertising panels are already built, including many digital screens. Whilst we don’t wish to see any more digital screens built, and wish to reduce the amount of corporate outdoor advertising we’re exposed to in public space, we recognise it would not be financially prudent for these existing screens to be removed.

Extra notes:

Bristol Council’s Advertising Concession Agreement was extended by 12 months to last until 31st March 2022. It is expected that over the course of 2021, the subsequent concession for the following period will be re-tendered (a commecial process that takes around 6 months). That new concession (beginning 1st April 2022) is expected to last 10 years. Adblock Bristol has argued that the longer 10 year concession should be split into ‘five + five’ structure – where the 10 year contract can be updated with new terms after 5 years (such as changes to the council’s Advertising & Sponsorship Policy).

Policy Recommendation 4:
Create Areas of Special Control for Advertisements

Local authorities can use special powers to create areas with stricter control over outdoor advertising. Part 3 of The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 contains measures for local authorities to create ‘areas of special control’. Residents who love and appreciate their neighbourhood and wish to take extra measures to protect it from new digital advertising screens should be able to argue for an Area of Special Control. It should not only be residents who live in more affluent or desirable areas who should be able to apply. We should all be able to take pride in where we live.

Policy Recommendation 5:
RemovE large billboards that don’t have planning permission

A billboard that was removed from Bristol City Centre after it was discovered it doesn’t have planning permission in 2018.

It is possible to remove some existing large billboards that do not have planning permission. For example, in Bristol local neighbourhood associations and Adblock Bristol have notified the Planning Enforcement team at Bristol City Council when the lack of planning permission on billboards has been discovered.

However, some planning enforcement teams do not have sufficient resources to issue discontinuance notices where billboards exist without planning permission. See here for a list of sites in Bristol that do not have planning permission.

Types of outdoor advertising

1. Large digital advertising screens. Most of these are on private land. Most planning applications are for new digital screens similar to these. Screens on private land are not covered by a local authority’s advertising policy – if they have one. These screens require a huge amount of electricity to run.

2. Large ‘48 sheet’ size paper poster billboards – also mostly on private land.

3. Stand-alone ‘bus stop size’ digital screens (called ‘six sheet’ size). These might on private land and not controlled by the local authority. A double-sided advertising screen like this requires the same electricity as four average UK homes.

4. Digital screens and paper ‘six sheet’ ads at bus stops. These are often covered by an advertising concession (commercial contract). The content of these ad spaces could be controlled by an ‘Advertising Policy’ created by a local authority: e.g prohibiting advertising for environmentally-damaging goods, junk food, gambling, payday loans, etc.