AdBlock Detectives on deemed consent ads

A lot of the outdoors advertising in Leeds never received approval through the planning portal. Instead, it appeared one day, it stayed long enough and after ten years received its legal status, under what is called “deemed consent”. In an initiative that we call “AdBlock Detectives”, we screen the streets of Leeds for unauthorised ads and demand that they are removed. In this post, we will share some background info on the legality of ads and a couple of local stories. We start by introducing some of the relevant jargon and planning regulations around ad display and removal. You can also skip straight to our AdBlock Detectives story for some local examples.

Deemed and express consent

Advertisement displays fall within three major categories: (1) those that do not require deemed or express consent, (2) those that require deemed consent, and (3) the rest, which require express consent.

1. There are classes of ads, which do not require express or deemed consent from the local planning authorities if they meet certain criteria and conditions. These include, though are not limited to, advertisements displayed on enclosed land or inside buildings that are not visible for the public, flags or advertisements relating to pending elections.

2. There are other classes of ads, which benefit from “deemed consent”, meaning that they do not need a specific permission from the local planning authorities as long as they comply with specific restrictions. An important distinction from the first group is that local planning authorities may restrict the use of deemed consent – we give some more details on that below. Classes for deemed consent include functional advertisements of government departments or temporary advertisements relating to sale and letting, or an ad displayed after expiry of express consent. Another interesting class benefiting from deemed consent, which applies to a vast amount of the outdoors advertising that we witness daily includes advertisements displayed for at least ten years without express consent. We will introduce this class with a bit more detail below.

3. If a proposed advertisement does not fall within one of the two exceptional groups discussed above, advertisers must apply for and obtain consent from the local planning authorities, otherwise referred to as express consent.

Ten years without express consent

To benefit from this form of deemed consent, the advertising must have been used continually for the preceding 10 years. The following conditions and limitations apply:

  • There has been no material change in the way the display has been used or the extent to which the site has been used in the ten-year period.
  • There are special conditions for Illumination, sequential displays, moving parts or features.
  • If any building or structure used to display the advertisement is removed or destroyed by any means, the erection of a building or structure to continue the display is not permitted.

Restricting the use of deemed consent

Local planning authorities may restrict the use of deemed consent in the following ways:

  • Through issuing a discontinuance notice. The local planning authority can issue a discontinuance notice – requiring an advertising display to be discontinued – to remedy a substantial injury to the amenity of the locality or public safety. As “substantial injury” is different from “interest” of amenity, the local planning authorities would need to justify their decision well.
  • Through restricting deemed consent within a defined area. The local planning authority must apply to the Secretary of State, which can in turn require express consent to be obtained for ads that normally benefit from deemed consent. It must be clear how deemed consent provisions have had adverse effects on the amenity or public safety.
  • Through defining an area of special control, which places additional restrictions on the display of advertisements, e.g. reduced display size limits. These are additional steps that the local planning authority can impose to ensure special protection with the approval of the Secretary of State.

AdBlock Detectives in Leeds

In Leeds, there are hundreds of billboards, which are in use and offered to advertisers, and at the same time never went through an application process [1]. In November 2020, we counted around 320 billboards [2] in the city without an associated application in the local planning portal that were still available for rent. Some of these have been there long enough to benefit from deemed consent. Yet, there are other whose status we can dispute, either because they have been there for less than ten years, or there has been a substantial change in their surroundings (e.g. a new bike lane).

We recently wrote a blog post about an application for the replacement of a paper billboard in LS5, which appeared in 2019 (earlier there were other forms of ad displays for the furniture business located in the same building; their location and size however changed over the years) without a prior application in the planning portal. That means that it has not been granted express consent, nor deemed consent as 10 years have not yet passed. The Conservation team added that the current unauthorised display appears on a listed building, recommending its removal. This is an example of a case where we believe there are clear grounds to remove the current ad display and reject the application for a new digital one, and so we will follow up on it!

Current paper billboard in LS5

In another case, the planning officer refused an application to replace a paper billboard with a digital one in LS13 on the grounds of road safety, particularly, a recent construction of a bike lane. The current paper billboard does not have a planning permission, and was installed between 2008 and 2012 (as seen on Google Maps). We emphasised the substantial change in the area with the new bike lane, which should be a good case for issuing a discontinuance notice.

Current paper billboard in LS13

Normally, we report breaches of planning regulations on the local planning portal. We usually report breaches as AdBlock Leeds, leaving the group contact details. It can be very difficult to trace the legal status of the surrounding advertising. We uncovered both of the examples mentioned above through their new applications to be replaced with digital billboards; none of them was listed on the BubbleOutdoors website.

Remember, just because an ad is there does not mean it has the right to be there. It is always worthwhile to check for permission on the planning portal, or contact us if you want us to have a look.


[1] To check whether an advertisement display has express consent, we check in the local planning portal searching for the postcode of the ad. If we don’t find an express consent, the chances are the advertisement display has not been granted one; however, it is also possible that it has been given express consent at a different postcode or that it was never added to the planning portal, so it is worth confirming that with the local planning department.

[2] This number is likely grossly understated, as we don’t have access to an updated map that contains all of the billboards in Leeds.

Featured image credit: Matt Bonner

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