New digital billboard application on A64(M) in LS1 6PQ (reference 20/02262/ADV)

Advertising giant JCDecaux has submitted yet another application to the Leeds city council to build a 3.5 x 6.5 m electronic billboard on the A64, in LS1 6PQ. This is just before the slip road merges into the A64, where cars coming from the city try to join the highway. What a great spot to be distracted! The deadline for objections is the 19th of May.

There are three things that really bug us with this application:
– the first one is that during the pre-application meeting, the counselors noted that the proposed location was dangerous. JCDecaux seems to think that road safety is not enough of a concern and has submitted anyway.
– the second one is that the application states that because the location is on a highway (rather than a residential area), there will be ‘no harm to amenity’. So basically, if you are a commuter coming back from work, or a passerby crossing the bridge over the highway, sorry, you don’t have the right to neutral streetscape!
– and finally, maybe the worst of all, is that in the application JCDecaux justifies the safety of the location by only considering the breaking distance and not the thinking distance. The breaking distance is the distance it takes to stop a car once the driver slams on the breaks. The thinking distance is the distance it takes a driver to react to an emergency and begin to press the brakes. When assessing road safety, both have to be considered! If this omission is just a slip, it only makes them incompetent. But if it is purposeful, then this application is simply criminal…

The 3.5 x 6.5 billboard will be located between the highway and the slip road, just before drivers merge onto the A64

So, if you also think that the safety of Leeds citizens is more important than McDonalds trying to sell you their latest chicken burger, here is your chance to say it!
 – follow the link to the planning portal here
– in the search bar, enter the planning reference: 20/02262/ADV
 – open the comments tab and log in with your credentials
 – write a few lines about why you think it is a bad idea to have a new billboard there
(more information on how to object here: How to object)

If you want to give more details, here are some arguments you can use in your objection. Unfortunately, environmental arguments are not recognised as valid for objection, which is part of the problem. This does not mean that you should not mention them in your comments. Just please include road safety and amenity as well.

Road safety

It seems unnecessarily dangerous to add a driver distraction in a motorway. As expressed in the pre-app meeting, the ad would be just before the slip road meets the highway, which is by nature a road section where drivers need extra care, so the location does not seem suitable for a 3.5 x 6.5 m bright billboard.

Also, an important factor seems to have been omitted when assessing the safety of the road. The applicant claims that the breaking distance at 40 mph in good weather conditions in 24 m, which is true, but the thinking distance (i.e. the time it takes to realise there is an issue requiring breaking) should be considered as well. With this in mind, the stopping distance is 36 m rather than 24 m, in dry conditions. In addition, the weather in Leeds is rainy often enough that wet conditions should be taken into account when assessing road safety. Research suggests that under wet conditions, the breaking distance can double (see this link), and the reduced visibility can increase the thinking distance. Finally, this all assumes that drivers will be respecting the speed limits, which unfortunately is not always the case.

Stopping distances at different speeds, in meters, feet and car lengths

Placing an electronic billboard at that location means that installation and maintenance will occur, with the consequent machinery and workers occupying space on the layby. This space should be reserved for emergency or essential roadwork. Should an emergency occur while maintenance is being carried out, the safety of the drivers and workers would seriously be at stake. This also shows that the application is not comparable to the site on the A463 as claimed in the application, as the latter has an easy access from the car park

With all these things considered, it seems obvious that drivers’ safety should be prioritised over electronic billboards

Amenity

It seems unfair to consider that because the location is on a road, it is fine to display irrelevant images to Leeds citizens. Driving in rush hour, to or from work is already stressful enough, and Leeds citizens should have the right to a ride as peaceful as possible. Because of the lockdown due to the COVID pandemic, it is recommended that we do not leave our homes. However, from Google images, it seems like the billboard would be visible by pedestrians on the bridge as well. Therefore, the above argument can also be made for pedestrians.

In addition, the billboard would hide trees visible to both drivers and pedestrians. Several research projects show that the mere fact of seeing a tree increases one’s wellbeing (see for example this study performed in the city of Toronto). The wellbeing of Leeds citizens should be prioritized over corporate benefits.

Environment

If you have read other posts on our website, you are probably familiar with most of the reasons why corporate advertising makes no sense from an environmental perspective. JCDecaux seems to have copy-pasted their environmental arguments from a previous application, so what we said then also applies here, and is again listed below.

The applicant makes several statements about how their proposed solution is environmentally friendly because it compares better to what they were doing before or because it is better than other solutions. By its very nature, advertising cannot be sustainable, and claiming that it is is at best ignorant, and at worst a blatant lie. Allowing messages that push for unnecessary consumption and therefore worsen the climate crisis is equivalent to putting the profits of corporations in front of citizens safety and wellbeing.

Environmental claims from JCDecaux, found in the application

The applicant claims that moving to electronic billboards will avoid large amounts of waste as ‘backlit vinyl [are] disposed via landfill’. However, the last page of the application (Part 1) states that ‘100% of paper and vinyl posters are recycled’. Obviously one of the 2 statements is wrong.

The applicant has a full page about their environmental achievements and commitments. These claims are not backed by any reference, study or even definition of the terms (for example, what is ‘green energy’?).

The applicant also prides themselves of having electric vehicles in operation. Any environmental benefits from this will be largely outweighed by the environmental impacts of the increased consumption due to the advertisements displayed.

Finally, in the technical specifications, it is written that the billboard will have a typical consumption of 4752 W and a maximal consumption of 15840 W. This is equivalent to 14 and 48 median UK households, respectively (see this report from DEFRA). In a context of climate crisis and to be consistent with the recent declaration of climate emergency by the Leeds City Council, it is not acceptable that such large amounts of energy are spent for the sole benefit of advertising corporations.

Thanks for reading until the end! Let’s reclaim our shared space together!

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