Digital advertising hoardings are an effective means of grabbing public attention but they can also be a dangerous distraction to motorists if their operation is not carefully controlled. The High Court made that point in overturning consent granted for a digital billboard close to a busy food store.
A company that specialises in display advertising sought permission to upgrade a conventional paper hoarding already on the site. The local authority refused on grounds that the sign’s internal illumination would form an intrusive feature detrimental to the residential amenity of neighbouring occupiers.
The company, however, successfully appealed to a planning inspector, who granted a five-year consent. He did so on the basis that the amenity of neighbours would not be unacceptably harmed by the proposed hoarding. The consent was subject to standard conditions contained in the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007.
Those conditions are general in nature and are targeted at ensuring that roadside adverts do not compromise road safety. The inspector also imposed case-specific conditions which placed limits on the luminance of the proposed hoarding and banned the use of flashing or intermittent lighting.
Upholding the local authority’s challenge to the inspector’s decision, the Court ruled that those conditions did not go far enough. It noted that the company had itself proposed that the consent should be subject to industry-standard conditions commonly imposed on roadside digital hoardings.
The company recommended that only static images, rather than moving or flashing ones, should be displayed. It also suggested that switches between adverts should take place instantly, with no sequencing, merging or fading, and that images should change no more frequently than every 10 seconds.
The Court found that the inspector had failed to grapple with the council’s contention, which was effectively supported by the company, that further specific controls on the hoarding’s operation were needed in the interests of highway safety. He had also failed to give adequate or intelligible reasons for failing to impose such conditions. The permission was quashed.