Can a damaged billboard stay?

We are writing this just after the biggest storm in the UK in three decades. The storm brought a lot of damage. It also did not spare the huge billboards and other advertising infrastructure either.

Billboards that have been damaged by the storm (or other circumstances) – beyond repair – may have actually lost the right to be there. These are billboards without express consent that did not actually go through an application process before they were put up. That also means that there potential effects on road safety, communities and the environment were not assessed. However, if they are there for long enough, they actually acquire the right to stay under what is called deemed consent. To benefit from this form of deemed consent, the advertisement must have been used continually for the preceding 10 years. The catch is that if the advertisement with deemed consent is destroyed by any means – it does not keep the right to be displayed. That makes the after-storm period a good time for anti-advertising activism! If you find any damaged advertising infrastructure, it is worth checking if it has deemed consent. And if it does, let’s fight it!

OK, so we found a fallen billboard. What steps do we follow to find out more about its status and permission to be there?

  1. We check whether ad advertisement has express consent. We do that in the local planning portal searching for the postcode or the street of the ad. In Leeds, we can check that here. 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. We document the removal or damage. The planning officers usually use Google maps to confirm that an advertisement has stayed long enough to have deemed consent. Similarly, we can use it to document that the advertisement has been removed. For obvious reasons we may not want to wait for the Google car to provide the evidence so we can take a picture ourselves. A picture such as the one above depicts the time and the location and should thus provide enough evidence for the loss of deemed consent.
  3. Announce the change. Normally, we report breaches of planning regulations on the local planning portal. This is by far the most difficult step as communicating with planning officers may take a long time and the response to our enquiry may be less than enthusiastic. However, it is also the most rewarding one as we may have just done enough for that advertisement without consent to be removed from our city!

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