Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Banner adverts hide eyesores

If you are a follower of this blog, you may remember that I posted an item on 13 February this year [“Large banner adverts on shrouded buildings”]. The gist of this piece was that large banner adverts serve to hide the ugliness of scaffolding when a building is under repair.

I illustrated this with some photos I took showing the Doge’s Palace in Venice a couple of years ago, the point being that if this is acceptable (on a purely temporary basis) in a World Heritage Site, then there really ought to be no difficulty in allowing such displays in British towns and cities when buildings are ‘in splints’.

No doubt the work on the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs has now been completed and these buildings have been restored to their full glory, sans banner advertisements, which were only ever going to be temporary and did not therefore justify the squeaks of protest from mainly British-based ‘conservationists’. The Italians clearly have a much more common-sense approach to these issues.

In April of this year, I came across another example in the Place Vendôme in Paris. Again, this was a purely temporary display on a building undergoing works on the south side of the square. Now I don’t know the precise heritage status of the Place Vendôme, but it must be pretty high, bearing in mind that it is a very early example of this type of urban development and was designed by the Sun King’s royal architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1680, but the Parisian authorities are clearly prepared to take a similarly common-sense view in such circumstances. Again, the display is no doubt purely temporary, and the adverts will come down when the scaffolding is taken down.

So please can British planners stop taking such a precious attitude to advertisement control, and allow these temporary banner displays (even in conservation areas and on or near listed buildings) while buildings are festooned in the detritus of scaffolding and other equipment when undergoing major repairs or other building work.



  1. The Italians have a different way of going about this - hence the way they litter their 'countryside' with third rate buildings. Visual blight is not a major concern of theirs.

    I don't really follow why you're so keen on advertisements. If it's the visual effect of scaffolding, then we could allow shrouds to be printed with an image of the building behind. This is what actually happened at the Doge's Palace in Venice, and the effect was tolerable.

    The real objection to your suggestion is that it wouldn't be long before work to buildings was contrived and artificially extended in order to generate advertising revenue, or before polythene sheeting was draped over even minor works where it wasn't necessary. The sheeting would become an end in itself. Something analogous has happened with telephone boxes, which are now advertising hoardings with an (often non-working) phone attached. Their primary, indeed often their only, function is to generate revenue through advertising. The operators have no interest in fixing them, or keeping them tidy inside, or maintaining them, as long as they serve their purpose as hoardings. The result is a blight on our high street.

  2. Robert Bargery displays a prejudice against advertising that is all to common in this country. The idea that the opportunity to shroud the ugly scaffolding round a building under repair should actually be put to commercial use and earn some useful revenue seems to be part of the objection! The point is that putting up a purely decorative shroud would cost money and there is no incentive to incur that expense, whereas banner adverts would pay for themselves and generate some useful revenue. They can be visually striking.

    Where banner adverts have been erected they have been wholly beneficial in covering up an eyesore and livening up the townscape until the scaffolding is taken down. I see no downside to this at all. I do not see advertising as a blight. We should have more of it. A proper overhaul of the Control of Advertisements Regulations would include deemed consent for banner advertisements in the situations I have described. What is good enough for Venice or for Paris is certainly good enough for Trumpton.

  3. I'm not sure that Robert is right on this issue.

    The key point is that of course money does not grow on trees. Work to historic buildings is very expensive, and work to listed buildings is almost always 20% and often 50% or 100%+ more expensive than work to non-heritage buildings, especially now that full VAT is to be charged on alterations. If they are not repaired and sympathetically altered, they will not survive in the long term. The huge sums of money needed to pay for this have to come from somewhere, and this is not a point which can be glossed over.

    Advertising revenue would in some (mostly urban) cases be a significant contributor, and the well-presented advertising we are talking about here is much more attractive than scaffolding.

    The telephone box analogy is interesting but less relevant because telephones are permanent (though perhaps, on Robert's argument, they shouldn't be!) Scaffolding and advertising are temporary, and of course subject to numerous and rigorous planning and other controls (and also to some extent this is self-policing, because the owner will want the building occupied asap after the works and the occupier is unlikely to want the windows blocked).

    It may be true that there is a LPA and amenity society prejudice against advertising, as you (Martin) suggest. But a further key issue is that, although (or because) there is little national policy on temporary development, an (almost entirely unwritten) culture has grown up in many LPAs which sees it as "undesirable" and "dangerous", to the extent that, counter-intuitively, it often seems easier to get consent for permanent development than temporary and reversible development. This culture (and the rules) need to change, so that decisions are based on evidence rather than untested assumptions that temporary development (or indeed advertising) is inherently wicked and unjustified.

  4. Dr Anton Lang MRTPI.8 August 2012 at 15:07

    I agree that there is an unnecessary prejudice against adverts in this country; which is especially perverse in our cities. Newcastle City Council refused advertisement consent for a tv-screen advert on boozing alley, stag-do parade Bigg Market and then, amazingly, the appeal was dismissed. Now there is an ugly, wooden casement box which requires no permission; in place of the funky screen. Piccadilly Circus is famous for its adverts, and looks great because of it. Admittedly large and/or lit adverts should not be everywhere, but, in commercial locations, outlandish can be acceptable; as it can be striking and eye-catching. The time-limited nature of all advert consents provides sufficient control. The current state of affairs is another example of the priggishness of the English system. Dr Anton Lang MRTPI.

  5. I'm not guilty of 'prejudice' if we use the word properly, ie to mean prejudging without reference to evidence or reason. Objections to advertising are based on a rational assessment of the visual blight they cause. Advertisements are designed to be unsubtle and to shout - they have to be to do their job. But who wants a shouting match in the public realm? Fine in magazines or on television, where we can turn away. But we need to be careful about how far such things are forced upon us in common space - they represent the private appropriation of the public realm. Common good manners suggest that this should be limited and controlled. Piccadilly Circus is a special case - a licensed fairground attraction.

    Advertising restrictions, along with the green belt, are one of the principal achievements of the post-war British planning system. Long may they remain in full force.

    I also question whether work being done to historic buildings is genuinely an eyesore. Why should it be? On the contrary, it could be interesting to see what is being done, and how. Why cover it up?

    My point about whether advertising would become an end in itself, behind which historic buildings perhaps rot - there would be an active incentive not to complete works, and to string out consents with perfunctory tinkering - remains unanswered.

  6. Forgive me, but the above comment does seem to me to amount to prejudging the issue without reference to evidence or reason. The current advertisement control regime is far too tough for outdoor advertisers, and there is scope for some significant liberalisation, starting with deemed consent (say for up to 12 months maximum) for banner adverts on shrouded buildings undergoing repair or awaiting demolition.

  7. New to the Blog but this caught my eye. Glasgow allowed "the largest advertisement banner in euorope" (apparently) to shroud the Old Post office building fronting onto George square about 3 or 4 years ago. After about 2 years of nothing happening on the site the Council eventually took action to remove the banner....I think it co-incided with a big picture of Wayne Roonie appearing on it. It is Scotland after all.

    Press articles indicated that the income from the hoarding was very healthy, and it was suggested that it was being retained only to generate income...alledgedly.

  8. Consent for this type of advert, whether it takes the form of express consent or (after a future change of the Control of Advertisements Regs) deemed consent, should not be for an indefinite period, but should last only for the duration of the works or for 12 months, whichever is the shorter. This should be sufficient to prevent any abuse. If there is justification for the renewal of such a consent, where a very long-term project is under way, an application for such a renewal could no doubt be considered on its merits, but would not automatically lead to consent for an extended period.