It’s tough being a local authority! Costs only ever go up, and the show has to be kept on the road with an ever smaller budget. Which is why we’re generally supportive of local authorities looking to find more creative ways to raise money than just an ever increasing Council tax. Lambeth has come up with a new idea – and has struck a deal with a company called Bay Media (who specialise in promotional banners on streets) to offer up most of the lamp posts on the Borough’s main roads for banner advertising.
The deal runs for ten years, right up to August 2031 – and a look at the Lambeth contracts website suggests that it will pay Lambeth the curiously precise sum of £1,181,686 and 31 pence, so about £100,000 a year. The banners themselves won’t be a complete surprise, as anyone who’s been to Brixton town centre recently will have seen many similar ones promoting local shopping, locally-owned businesses, and Covid testing, that went up early in the pandemic. There are also a couple in place at the eastern end of Wandsworth Road promoting the Borough-wide 20mph speed limit and the need to get tested regularly – as our photo shows.
Maybe the bigger change is that these new banners will be much more overtly commercial in nature, aiming to make income rather than just conveying public service messages. Lambeth note that advertising on their roads and pavements to date hasn’t actually made any money for the Council, and now want to turn a profit on these activities. So we can probably expect these new adverts to be doing their best to grab our attention!
And rather than just being the odd one here and there, there will be vast numbers of them! Because these are quite large adverts, they need planning permission – so the company has duly put in a bundle of planning applications seeking permission to add adverts to the lamp posts along the main roads.
The map above shows one of many that illustrates which lamp posts they plan to put banners on, covering the western end of Wandsworth Road – the blue ones are planned adverts, the red ones are lamp posts they are avoiding because they’re in front of Listed buildings (in this case the Plough Brewery which we’ve written about recently). The grey ones are not planned for banners at this stage, seemingly because they’re awkwardly situated and / or too close to other structures. It’s not yet clear if the plan is to lease whole roads for specific campaigns, or to sell them on a post-by-post basis.
And while we broadly think this is as good a way of balancing the books as any, this is where our one key concern comes in: the western end of the Wandsworth Road, close to where it meets Lavender Hill, is an official conservation area. Lots of efforts have been made to not have loads of advertising, garish shop fronts, and other tat – specifically to let everyone appreciate a rare late Victorian streetscape that hasn’t been mucked about with too much. That’s why there are none of the pavement and gable-end advertising hoardings we see elsewhere, the shop signs are more muted than usual and follow a size and positioning that’s in keeping with the original buildings, and even the payphones are recessed. The conservation area is quite tightly defined, and focussed very specifically on the view along the street – as the conservation area map below shows, where the views of the original pre-1930 buildings are included in the boundary –
This would change rather radically if essentially permanent large advertising banners went up on this section – our (admittedly crude) artists’ impression below shows how these would pretty immediately dominate the view, and severely undermine the key view in this conservation area. Bay Media do acknowledge that their proposals ignore the conservation areas – saying in their application that “Although some sites may fall into conservation areas, a precedent has been set for advertising to be displayed within these areas – such as the use of digital 6 sheets, and larger billboards [both digital and traditional]. As such, we don’t feel this will have an impact on our site selection.“
In our view isn’t good enough: As our photo above shows, Lambeth ‘s planners have done a pretty good job in recent years in protecting this conservation area and it does not include digital size-sheets or billboards – and to be honest we think they have recognised that they will be causing damage to the conservation area but knowingly ignored it in the (optimistic) hope that Lambeth planners won’t spot the glaring inconsistency! We’re not too sure if Bay Media have even visited this actual stretch of the road. The shop owners and households on this stretch of the street have followed the rules on conservation areas, to protect the area as a whole, and it seems only right that third party advertisers should do the same. Sometimes the ‘temporary’ nature is also used as a get-out clause for otherwise unacceptable proposals, but these signs are going to be up for a minimum of ten years, and they’re far more prominent than a typical shopfront – so that doesn’t really wash here either.
So overall – a reasonable idea overall, but one that needs some changes to protect specific areas of the streets. Lambeth has already signed an agreement with the advertising company, so even though planning decisions are separately managed they’re not realistically going to reject this planning application. But they might at a push be willing to agree changes with the applicant.
In terms of the specific planning application, we reckon eight of the proposed lamp post banners should really be removed from the proposal (numbers 139, 141, 144, 145, 148, 149, 154 and 159) – which seems a pretty reasonable adjustment as it still leaves the company with half a dozen banners along this stretch which are not in the conservation area & right in front of designated buildings, as well as hundreds of others along the rest of the road and across the Borough.
If you want to view the proposals and comment, it’s on the Lambeth planning website where you need to search for planning application reference number 21/04194 . Lambeth is officially accepting comments up to the 17th December (and probably for a week or so after then – because local authorities always try to take any reasonable input in to account even if it’s a bit late). You can feed in comments online, by post or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org (making sure you include the reference number & your name and address).