Banning estate agent boards – has it worked?

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Estate agent boards near Wandsworth Common (an area not covered by these new rules), in January 2016

Back in March 2016, Wandsworth lobbied for, gained and implemented new legal powers to stop the proliferation of estate agent advertising boards in specific parts of the Borough – notably Clapham Junction town centre, and much of the length of Lavender Hill. The aim was to prevent tatty displays being left on otherwise elegant buildings, and make the street a more attractive place. This doesn’t completely prevent display boards, and there are still processes that allow them to be put up – but it does apply some hefty fines to prevent them being put up on the fly and left up for months and years. The areas covered are quite restricted – essentially focussing on areas where agents are tempted by what is effectively a free advertising opportunity, and where properties are split into flats meaning everyone probably assumes the boards are for someone else’d flat so they don’t get removed.

This was a UK first – previous schemes only covered designated heritage areas – and it got a fair bit of attention  in the specialist press. Credit goes to Wandsworth Council for handling the process and enforcing it, and special credit also goes to a local resident and member Lavender Hill for Me who pushed for this very determinedly.

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The area where estate agent boards face special restrictions, covering most of Lavender Hill (map extract source: Wandsworth Borough Council)

So – nearly a year after the new legislation came in to force – has this worked?

The obvious question to start with is – are there now fewer boards? Looking at Lavender Hill, it’s a resounding yes – there are far fewer boards, indeed a run along the road today found hardly any: one legitimate-looking one advertising recently vacated office space above Pizza Express, one on a flat just outside the designated area, and one ancient fourth-floor one that’s falling to pieces but so high up it’s hard to see how it got there or how it can be removed. The most problematic ones – ‘Let By’ boards that stay up for months as free advertising until they eventually blow off in storms – have vanished.

Does it improve the street? This also looks like a yes, especially at the eastern end. The Victorian terraces, some of which are pretty elegant, are decluttered and looking a lot better for it. The street no longer looks like a tacky closing-down sale, and it’s certainly a better environment for an aspirational new business.

Has it ruined the estate agents, or slowed down lettings, as some who opposed the move worried it might? It’s harder to give a conclusive answer, but there have been plenty of recent shop lettings, and flats above the shops were never realistically let on the basis of these boards anyway, so it doesn’t seem to have caused any real problems – after all, the value of these boards beyond general brand advertising for estate agent chains was always a bit doubtful.

All in all – this looks like a success. It’s even inspired a few other towns to go down the same road for parts of their town centres.

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