Takedowntheads is a campaign group formed to resist the steady influx of digital advertising screens into our local landscapes.  We started in response to Rosslyn Park Rugby Club’s installation of three huge screens in South West London (see CARPA), and have come to realise that there is a much wider problem.

The economics of these screens have changed the game.  Whereas the more modest revenue from billboards naturally limits their proliferation, that is not the case for digital screens.  This is evidenced by the fact that it’s worth building huge structures alongside elevated roadways.

Because there’s so much money involved, it’s inevitable that both private and public bodies will want to install these screens anywhere there is significant traffic or footfall.

Kingston Vale before and after

This screen on the A3 approach to Wandsworth has consent.  We believe that it is completely out of keeping with its setting and yet it effectively sailed through planning.  The fact that it provides no public benefit, degrades our environment and increases the probability of traffic accident means that there’s something deeply wrong with the consent processes.

If we do not resist these pressures there will be a creeping degradation of our neighbourhoods because every screen that is installed creates a precedent and makes it more likely that another one will appear nearby.

We argue that these screens are of a completely different nature to billboards and yet planning guidelines do not properly recognise this.  A number of factors make it relatively easy to get consent for digital screens:

  • Planning guidelines are written in such a way that there is a natural presumption in favour of the installation, and there are many categories of “deemed consent”.
  • In line with regular planning applications, consultation is typically limited to the immediate location of the proposed site whilst the impact of an installation is far more widespread and can have a profound effect on the character of a neighbourhood. Our research has shown that objections from local groups are almost always ignored by planners.
  • Planning guidelines recognise that advertising is designed to be looked at and therefore is always, to some degree, distracting.  This means that objections citing traffic safety simply don’t work.  Instead there will be a condition attached to the consent to review accident statistics although it would be quite unlikely to be able to prove causality at statistically significant levels.
  • Because the consents are time limited (typically five years, although it’s rare for a site to discontinue) visual amenity arguments are treated differently to those used when considering a permanent structure. “Not in keeping” objections can be completely ignored.
  • Councils have a serious conflict of interest since they can raise significant revenue by installing screens on their own land; and they are all looking for alternative means of raising funds.

There are three strands to our campaign:

  1. To raise public awareness of this issue and encourage sympathisers to sign petitions, contact advertisers, and write to relevant public officials.
  2. To lobby local and central government to change planning guidelines and regulations for digital advertising screens.
  3. To fight local campaigns by forming sub-groups such as CARPA where there is, or proposed to be, an installation that clearly degrades a local neighbourhood.

You can help by letting us know of advertising consent applications in your area that you object to and signing any petitions we are running.  By far the most effective strategy though is to persuade advertisers that this is not a good medium for them.  Please contact companies that you see using these screens through Twitter, or using email addresses that we will publish on this site and let them know that they are damaging, rather than promoting, their brands.

We should all be very concerned.  Look at this article clipped from the website of a business that has a vested interest in digital screens:

Make you money