Controversial billboard deal with Dublin City Council
Written by Eoin Bassett , The Village Magazine
Tuesday, 05 June 2007
Dublin City Council has struck a controversial deal with JC Deceaux that grants the outdoor advertising company a 15-year lease on billboards on public property, mainly in the Dublin's northside. Eoin Bassett reports.
The majority of billboards across the country are unauthorised developments yet nothing is being done to enforce planning regulations. The statute of limitations combined with this lack of enforcement has allowed unauthorised advertising to flourish according to planning critics.
The lowest income for a billboard is roughly* â‚¬200 a week, making for an annual income of* â‚¬10,000 a year. If the location is good, or the sign is illuminated, the income is significantly increased, while prismatic signs are worth up to six times as much.
In Dublin, temporary permission is usually given to an advertiser for three years and once a billboard is in place for more than seven years, it is past the statute of limitations. The Council rarely takes enforcement action or forces a reapplication when the three year period lapses, and according to An Taisce, this has allowed a massive amount of unauthorised advertising to remain in place around the city.
However, the number of unauthorised billboards is on the wane, and, while outdoor advertising has always been on private land until now, a deal between Dublin City Council and advertising giant JC Decaux could see that change.
JC Decaux recently applied for planning permission for 120 advertising structures to be erected on public property around the city, of which 80 per cent are to be located on the northside and about two thirds of those in the city centre.
In return for a 15-year lease, JC Decaux is to provide the Council with a public bicycle scheme with 500 bicycles, some public toilets and way-finding and heritage trail signs.
But the deal has raised hackles. The value of the deal to the Council has been called into question and there is confusion among councillors, who have given figures ranging from* â‚¬60 million to* â‚¬85 million. Dublin City Council have declined to comment on the value of the deal and its breakdown, while according to one advertising industry expert JC Decaux could make as much as* â‚¬2,000 a month for each one of the 70 seven-metre-square metropoles they are part of the overall proposal.
Critics like An Taisce have questioned the Council over their failure to take a more active interest in JC Decauxâ€™s track record; a requirement under the 2000 Planning Act. The ad firm has had a number of section five findings against it by An Bord PleanÃ¡la since taking over the Dave Allen advertising firm in 2000. These are cases where the Bord has ruled that the developments in question where not exempt and therefore unauthorised.
However, the deal with Dublin City Council is linked to the removal of 48 poster signs, though the locations are unspecified and there is no mention of any unauthorised advertising maintained by JC Decaux in the capital.
One example of just such an unauthorised sign is that of an unauthorised billboard maintained by JC Decaux on the corner of North King Street and Henrietta Lane; yards from one of the proposed sites of the new freestanding billboards. According to An Taisce, the planning permission conditions attached to the building on which the sign is located require its removal. â€œThe permission for the redevelopment of that site requires the removal of that sign, which is erected without permission in any case.
â€œHere you have Dublin City Council giving JC Decaux permission for three of these free standing monopole structures between the top of Parnell Street and Bolton Street, and around the corner they donâ€™t bother to face up to the fact that JC Decaux already have an illegal sign,â€ said An Taisceâ€™s Ian Lumley. *
An Taisce have lodged a complaint with the European Commission over the lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the scheme. According to Council planners an EIA was not necessary. This is apparently because the applications were all separate.
Council planners told Labour councillor, Emer Costello that the project was an â€œenvironmental enhancementâ€ scheme. She believes there was a lack of transparency in the way 70 applications were submitted on 22 December during the Christmas holidays when it was more likely that the applications would pass unnoticed. Another 50 applications were lodged around a month later.
One of the reasons given by city planners for refusing to provide details of the contract to councillors was on the grounds of commercial sensitivity and plans are indeed in place for similar schemes in other local authorities.
Councillor Tom Brabazon believes that if the deal goes through as it is presently envisaged by the local authority officials, and An Bord PleanÃ¡la who are currently reviewing appeals, gives it the go ahead, then it will have much wider implications for other local authorities.
Tom Coffey of the Dublin City Business Association is not just worried about aesthetics, saying â€œthe advertising they are taking down is illegal anyway. Itâ€™s very important to protect the brand of the city. If a firm was to rent every billboard we would not be Dublin City anymore, but whatever that brand was.â€
Two new types of advertising structure have been applied for; 70 metropoles and 50 smaller advertising display units. The metropoles are up to seven-metres squared and will stand on a single leg on public footpaths with moving images and back lighting designed to stand out, particularly at night. The DTO has made it known that it is totally opposed to the provision of on-street illuminated outdoor signage as it is considered to constitute a traffic hazard.
Many of the smaller advertising display units â€“ around the size of bus-shelter adverts â€“ are planned for residential zones, and historic, or conservation areas. This is in spite of the Dublin City Development Plan, which states that â€œas a general principle, outdoor advertising will only be permitted in commercial zones. It will not be permitted within residential zones, historic or conservation areas, or amenity areasâ€.