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Digital billboards: What is happening and how we make change

Date: 29.06.21 | in: Uncategorised

We have had contact from a number of people in Otley, particularly residents of Bradford Road who are deeply concerned by the new digital Billboard. Included in my inbox are parents who are now struggling to get children to sleep at night. I would not want to live with that kind of intrusion, and I don’t want that for you either.

The first port of call for dealing with any issues of this kind, particularly when delving  into the complex world of planning, is to find out what has happened, why it has happened and who (if anyone) has the power to make change.

Below is where we have got to so far and I hope that this is helpful. In short, we need to do two things. In the long term we must investigate and try to change an out of date planning law that was never intended to deal with this kind of thing. In the short term we must lobby the company who own the billboard to, at the very least, turn it off at night. For that I need your help – please see the petition at the bottom of this page.

What has happened?

There are two separate applications which are causing concern in Otley currently.

  •  Land Adjoining 39 Bradford Road Otley LS21 3EH  20/06338/ADV Approved
  •  Two illuminated digital advertising signs Tate Fuel Gay Lane Otley LS21 3BB. 21/04352/ADV Under consideration. Comments can be submitted on the planning portal but the local authority will only take into account certain things. I discuss this further below.

Billboards are looked at under a legal mechanism called ‘Advertisement consent applications.’ They do not go through the planning permission process and do not require advertisement or consultation. This means that applications do not go through a process of consideration and approval by councillors, instead being delegated to the planning authority who can only consider the application against specific and tight criteria. In this case, the application itself was a lawful application, and subsequently approved in November 2020.

What are Local authorities required to consider?

In these applications Local authorities are only required to consider two things: Visual amenity and Highway safety

What is Visual Amenity?
The terms ‘amenity’ and ‘highways safety’ are not defined in detail in the advertisement control rule. Each planning authority (and the Secretary of State on appeal) must interpret what is meant by these expressions as they apply in particular cases.

In assessing amenity, the planning authority will always consider the local characteristics of the neighbourhood. For example, if your advertisement will be displayed in a locality where there are important scenic, historic, architectural or cultural features, the planning authority will consider whether it is in scale and in keeping with these features. For example, signage would not likely be placed outside Churches, or Town Halls. Unfortunately, this does not mean looking at the appropriateness of a town or area as a whole more the specific specifications of a site. If an area already has a non-digital billboard in place then this would, under this legal framework, qualify a digital billboard.

What is Highway Safety?

Factors relevant to public safety include;

  • the safety of persons using any highway, railway, waterway, dock, harbour or aerodrome
  • whether the display of the advertisement in question is likely to obscure, or hinder the ready interpretation of, any traffic sign, railway signal or aid to navigation by water or air
  • whether the display of the advertisement in question is likely to hinder the operation of any device used for the purpose of security or surveillance or for measuring the speed of any vehicle

So what can be done? 

Leeds Council Complaints 

Several constituents have submitted complaints via the Leeds Council complaints procedure. The Council complaints procedure can only check that a Local Authority has met is statutory requirements and followed the guidance given to them by Central Government. In this case the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007.

Therefore, whilst the complaints via this process are a good way of registering dissatisfaction, and I will be submitting one myself for those in Gay Lane, we cannot guarantee they will change the decision on the billboards.

I understand that some of you have submitted light pollution complaints to the Environmental Health department. I will therefore be speaking to this department to see how these are to be taken forward.

The council have agreed to check that the boards have the appropriate light fitter installed.

Appeals to the Secretary of State

If you are aggrieved by the decision of your local planning authority to grant consent for the advertisements subject to conditions, then you can appeal to the Secretary of State. This however had to be to be done 8 weeks after the consent is given so this deadline has now passed. The local authority receive notice of this and as far as we are aware, this has not been done. As with the council complaints procedure the Secretary of State would only assess the application under the criteria set out in the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007.

Changing the law

We have been advised that the regulations used in these cases by Local Authorities have not been updated since 2007. They were intended for the erection of regular billboards and are not really fit for purpose with digital boards, which are fast becoming the norm. This legislation is set by Central Government and I will be writing to Rt Hon. Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government  to ask that these are reviewed, considering the issues digital boards are causing in local, and rural communities, citing Otley as an example.

I realise that pushing for a long-term law change is not going to help the residents of Bradford Road in the short term, which is why we must look to more immediate solutions.

Lobbying the company

In my view, the most likely route to success, is to persuade the applicants; Air Outdoor Media Limited, that it is in everyone’s best interest to make changes. I have written to them to ask that they meet me on site, potentially with some affected residents, to discuss the issues and ask that they are more sensitive to the local community. I hope that they will consider reducing the time the board is lit.

I understand that a community petition has been started by one resident, but I would like to open this up further in light of the new application for Gay Lane.

I can then present this to Air Outdoor Media when we meet.

Signing the below will help me to represent the strength of feeling within the community and allow me to keep in touch with you as the situation develops.

Sign the petition

Turn off the digital billboard at night.


All details are correct at date of publication shown at the top of the article

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